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Tuesday, 30 June 2015

Cult v Charity

Organisations that could be identified as cults are registered as charities in Australia and receiving tax exempt status, a group of experts has claimed. Journalist Xavier Smerdon investigated the issue of when a charity becomes a cult.

In the early 1990s Ros Hodgkins’ daughter was a bright and affectionate young woman that had moved from the NSW countryside to Sydney with dreams of becoming a beauty therapist.

Living away from her family and friends in what felt like a foreign city made Ros’ daughter vulnerable.

When she met members of the Boston Movement, later known as the International Churches of Christ, she felt that she had finally made some new friends.

It was more than two years before Ros saw her daughter again, with the cult ordering her to cut off contact from her family and devote herself to their cause.

“She quit her job to work full time for the church with very little sleep, very little pay, moving from flat to flat and she was totally told to cut herself off from us, her family,” Ros told Pro Bono Australia News.

“It was absolutely horrific because the whole time you’re thinking how could this happen in this country?

“For a family member to be so changed, to be so taken away from the person that you knew, and sadly that’s the kind of stories that we’re hearing every week.”

Ros was finally able to get her daughter in contact with an expert on cults who helped her think critically about the choices she had made.

She eventually left the group she had devoted so much time and energy to and returned to her family.

Ros soon discovered that she was not alone and that many other parents around Australia had lost their children to dangerous groups masquerading as religions.

Along with a group of other parents she helped found the Not for Profit group, Cult Information & Family Support (CIFS).

Ros said she was constantly being contacted by people from around Australia and the world who felt their children may be in trouble.

With the growing threat of groups like ISIS recruiting vulnerable and idealistic young people, Ros said she was seeing a rise in the number of cults operating in Australia.

“It’s been for some time recognised that there could be possible 3000 groups, some of those might be replicated in different states, within this country, that would be using dynamics that we understand are coercive, that have undue pressure, that are using destructive and abusive types of control techniques to keep their members compliant to how they see they should live,” she said.

“They’re taking away personal freedoms very much in an area that could go from not so abusive to extremely abusive.”

Possibly the most disturbing of Ros’ claims is that groups that she would identify as cults are receiving charity status, and dodging paying tax in Australia.

She points her allegations specifically at two of the most notorious churches.

“There are many, many churches that have become something sinister. Scientology is recognised as a church, the Exclusive Brethren is recognised as a church and yet it has its own school, it has people that leave that are totally told that they, in the eyes of the family, in the eyes of those still in the church, that they are dead,” she said.

“There are groups that aren’t even seen as a church but they claim charity status.

“Some churches these days are still stopping young people from having tertiary education, they are still saying if they leave, they are to be treated as though they are dead because that’s how God would treat them if they left the true cause. How can that be still obtaining tax deductibility?

“They’re going against human rights that we all take very seriously. Freedom to choose and to believe.”

Ros’ accusations are backed up in part by Independent Senator Nick Xenophon who in April wrote to the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission (ACNC) asking it to investigate the Church of Scientology.

Following the airing of Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief, a documentary containing fresh allegations of abuse of members, mismanagement and spying within the Church of Scientology, Xenophon said that the ACNC should review the charitable status of the church.

Xenophon told Pro Bono Australia News last week that he was not convinced that the Church of Scientology could be ruled out as a cult.

“It’s an issue of cult-like behaviour,” Xenophon said.

“An organisation that is receiving tax-exempt status ought to be subject to some scrutiny.”

He said Australia should look to the example of the United Kingdom, which has refused to give charity status to Scientology since 1999 because it has no “public benefit arising out of the practice of Scientology”.

An ACNC spokesperson said secrecy provisions limited what it could say about its investigation into Scientology.

“The ACNC has received the letter from Senator Xenophon. We take all concerns about registered charities seriously. Where there is evidence of serious mismanagement or misappropriation, a serious, persistent or deliberate breach of the ACNC Act, or where vulnerable people or significant charitable assets are at risk, the ACNC will act firmly and quickly,” the spokesperson said.

“Cults are not mentioned in the Charities Act or the ACNC Act. All charities must meet the definition set out in the Charities Act. This includes being not-for-profit, being for the public benefit and having no disqualifying purposes.”

A letter sent to Senator Xenophon from Director of Compliance and Reporting at the ACNC, Stuart Donaldson, last week and seen by Pro Bono Australia News confirmed that the charity regulator was responsible for investigating allegations of abuse within Scientology.

“The ACNC has completed an initial evaluation of these concerns and viewed the Going Clear documentary,” Donaldson said in the letter.

“We have concluded that the concerns you raised are within the ACNC’s jurisdiction to the extent that they are occurring after the commencement of the ACNC in December 2012 and relate to ACNC governance standards, reporting and record keeping obligations and entitlement to registration under the ACNC Act 2012 and the Charities ACT 2013.”

Donaldson said the ACNC could take a range of actions against the Church of Scientology, including encouraging it to conduct a self-evaluation, launching its own investigation or review, or reviewing the church’s entitlement to registration as a charity.

He said the ACNC may also decide to take no action “until further evidence is available”.

The President of the Church of Scientology Australia, Vicki Dunstan, told Pro Bono Australia News that free speech was not a free pass to broadcast or publish false information about her religion.

“These claims are baseless and have no bearing on the real activities of the Church at any level,” Dunstan said.

“Not only does the Church know it is a charity but others who are qualified to pass judgment also affirm this.

“The Church of Scientology is a charitable organization recognized by a unanimous decision of five Judges of the High Court of Australia in 1983 and we remain so today. Nothing has changed.”

Dunstan pointed to humanitarian work undertaken by Scientology as proof that it should remain a registered charity in Australia.

“The Church sponsors the largest non-governmental anti-drug campaign on earth – reaching tens of millions of people each year, promoting education about drug abuse,” she said.

“The Church sponsors an international foundation called The Way to Happiness – a non-religious moral code based on common sense that aims to restore values. In the two decades since it was authored, some 80 million copies of the book have passed from hand to hand.

“The Scientology Volunteer Ministers program has initiated volunteer disaster relief efforts and other assistance on a global scale. There are 203,000 active members who are on call at any time and any place in the world for any situation.”

The ACNC is not thought to be currently investigating the Exclusive Brethren, or Plymouth Brethren Christian Church as it is officially known, which also strongly defended its charity status and said it was not a cult, calling the allegations a “terrible slur”.

“Our charitable status has never been questioned. And yes we will defend it,” a church spokesperson said.

“The Plymouth Brethren has none of the features of a cult. We are much more comfortable with the term ‘sect’.

“Our Church members live and work within the wider Australian community in suburbs and in country towns. Our homes are situated amongst the homes of other Australians. We do not live in compounds or gated communities. Our children attend normal public schools in their early years and then schools that are fully accredited by relevant State and Federal education authorities and are staffed by non-Brethren teachers who follow the requisite state-based curricula.”

The spokesperson said the church’s Rapid Relief Team, made up of volunteers, worked to assist at charity events, help the homeless and feed emergency personnel during natural disasters.

So while support groups, a Senator, and religious organisations argue about what defines a charity, Ros Hodgkins is sure about one thing, charity status cannot be used to protect cults.

“Governments haven’t taken seriously a problem that’s existed here for a long time and are too afraid to be looking at a religious belief that simply becomes a way for people to hid behind that belief,” she said.

“No organisation should be not able to be scrutinised simply because it says I’m a  charity or I’m a religious group.”

- See more at: http://www.probonoaustralia.com.au/news/2015/06/%E2%80%98cults%E2%80%99-hiding-charities#sthash.TC8fOVcr.dpuf

15 comments:

  1. The following quote from this article caught my eye,

    Quote
    “The ACNC is not thought to be currently investigating the Exclusive Brethren, or Plymouth Brethren Christian Church as it is officially known, which also strongly defended its charity status and said it was not a cult, calling the allegations a “terrible slur”. “Our charitable status has never been questioned. And yes we will defend it,” a church spokesperson said. “The Plymouth Brethren has none of the features of a cult. We are much more comfortable with the term ‘sect’.
    End Quote

    The comments from PBCC EB in this quote are revealing

    1. It contradicts factual evidence
    2. It contradicts the PBCC’s own founding doctrines from JN Darby
    3. It contradicts the PBCC’s own press release statements
    4. There is some truth even if it contradicts what PBCC EB claim

    1
    It contradicts factual evidence

    In the UK their Charity status HAS been in question and still is by the Charity Commission who are still monitoring. This is what UK Charity Commission said in Jan 2014 from their 55 page report into PBCC EB.

    Quote 1
    ….the Commission concluded, on balance, that there were elements of detriment and harm which emanated from doctrine and practices of the Brethren and which had a negative impact on the wider community as well as individuals. In particular the nature and impact of the Disciplinary Practices and the impact of the doctrines and practices on those who leave and on children within the PBCC may have consequences for society.

    Quote 2
    …there is evidence to support the view that there are elements of detriment and harm which are in real danger of outweighing public benefit…The most serious detriment and harm related, in the Commission’s view, to the allegations of the treatment of ex-Brethren and to the Disciplinary Practices. The Commission asked that the PBCC address these issues, which they were willing to do.

    So in June 2015, it is disingenuous to say “Our charitable status has never been questioned”. In the UK there is a full investigation ! and furthermore PBCC EB have NOT addressed the issues as promised

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. 2
      It contradicts the PBCC’s own founding doctrines from JN Darby

      Here is what JN Darby says about the term “sect”

      What Is a Sect?
      Collected Writings of J.N. Darby
      Ecclesiastical 3

      Extract
      The spirit of a sect exists when we see disciples unite outside this unity, and when it is around an opinion that those who profess it are gathered, in order that they be united by means of this opinion. The unity is not founded on the principle of the unity of the body, nor of the union of brethren. When such persons are united in a corporation, and mutually recognize each other as members of this corporation, then they constitute formally a sect, because the principle of the gathering is not the unity of the body; and the members are united, not as members of the body of Christ, when they are even such, but as members of a particular corporation. All Christians are members of the body of Christ-an eye, a hand, a foot, etc. (1 Cor. 12:13-25).

      JND Volume 31 Page 381
      Principles of Gathering

      Extract
      The question is not there; but suppose a person, known to be godly and sound in faith, who has not left some ecclesiastical system -- nay, thinks Scripture favours an ordained ministry, but is glad when the occasion occurs; suppose we alone are in the place, or he is not in connection with any other body in the place -- staying with a brother, or the like: is he to be excluded because he is of some system as to which his conscience is not enlightened, nay, which he may think more right? He is a godly member of the body, known such: is he to be shut out? If so, the degree of light is title to communion, and the unity of the body is denied by the assembly which refuses him. The principle of meeting (as members of Christ walking in godliness) is given up, agreement with us is made the rule, and the assembly becomes a sect with its members like any other.

      Yet in June 2015, the PBCC EB who have a ‘spokesperson’ as quoted says “We are much more comfortable with the term ‘sect’.” . Such an acknowledgement is to defy, contradict, ignore, their very own founding doctrine from their own founding leader JN Darby !

      3.
      It contradicts the PBCC’s own press release statements

      On 22nd Jan 2013 the PBCC EB released a press statement in response to an article in the Daily Mail titled ‘Christian sect school that ‘shut up’ girl pupil’. The PBCC EB press statement (I have a pdf copy) contained the following –

      “The PBCC is not a sect but is structured and operates on common Christian ground as taught by Holy Scripture which is available for all Christians.”

      Yet in June 2015 the PBCC EB who have a ‘spokesperson’ as quoted says “We are much more comfortable with the term ‘sect’.”

      Such an acknowledgement is a direct contradiction of their OWN claims in 2013

      Delete
    2. 2
      It contradicts the PBCC’s own founding doctrines from JN Darby

      Here is what JN Darby says about the term “sect”

      What Is a Sect?
      Collected Writings of J.N. Darby
      Ecclesiastical 3

      Extract
      The spirit of a sect exists when we see disciples unite outside this unity, and when it is around an opinion that those who profess it are gathered, in order that they be united by means of this opinion. The unity is not founded on the principle of the unity of the body, nor of the union of brethren. When such persons are united in a corporation, and mutually recognize each other as members of this corporation, then they constitute formally a sect, because the principle of the gathering is not the unity of the body; and the members are united, not as members of the body of Christ, when they are even such, but as members of a particular corporation. All Christians are members of the body of Christ-an eye, a hand, a foot, etc. (1 Cor. 12:13-25).

      JND Volume 31 Page 381
      Principles of Gathering

      Extract
      The question is not there; but suppose a person, known to be godly and sound in faith, who has not left some ecclesiastical system -- nay, thinks Scripture favours an ordained ministry, but is glad when the occasion occurs; suppose we alone are in the place, or he is not in connection with any other body in the place -- staying with a brother, or the like: is he to be excluded because he is of some system as to which his conscience is not enlightened, nay, which he may think more right? He is a godly member of the body, known such: is he to be shut out? If so, the degree of light is title to communion, and the unity of the body is denied by the assembly which refuses him. The principle of meeting (as members of Christ walking in godliness) is given up, agreement with us is made the rule, and the assembly becomes a sect with its members like any other.

      Yet in June 2015, the PBCC EB who have a ‘spokesperson’ as quoted says “We are much more comfortable with the term ‘sect’.” . Such an acknowledgement is to defy, contradict, ignore, their very own founding doctrine from their own founding leader JN Darby !

      3.
      It contradicts the PBCC’s own press release statements

      On 22nd Jan 2013 the PBCC EB released a press statement in response to an article in the Daily Mail titled ‘Christian sect school that ‘shut up’ girl pupil’. The PBCC EB press statement (I have a pdf copy) contained the following –

      “The PBCC is not a sect but is structured and operates on common Christian ground as taught by Holy Scripture which is available for all Christians.”

      Yet in June 2015 the PBCC EB who have a ‘spokesperson’ as quoted says “We are much more comfortable with the term ‘sect’.”

      Such an acknowledgement is a direct contradiction of their OWN claims in 2013

      Delete
    3. 4
      There is some truth even if it contradicts what PBCC EB have previously claimed

      In Lorraine Boettner respected book first published in 1962 about the Roman Catholic Church it describes the following about a ‘Sect’

      Quote
      “Dictionary definitions tend to emphasize the divisive, schismatic, heretical elements in defining a sect. Hence we would define a sect as a group that shuts itself in as God’s exclusive people, and shuts all others out. By its exclusiveness a sect cuts itself off and isolates itself from the main stream of Christian life.”
      End Quote

      This description perfectly matches the Plymouth Brethren Christian Church aka Exclusive Brethren, in its beliefs, practices and doctrines.

      So finally in June 2015 the PBCC EB acknowledge that they “Comfortable” with being called a sect !, thank you for that honesty from your PBCC EB spokesperson in the quoted statement

      Delete
    4. BR Oh what a delightful creature you are!
      The PBCC statement doesn't contradict anything and is to their credit.
      It rather shows they have shown considerable grace towards those like yourself who have a spirit of accusation and malice

      Guy

      Delete
  2. 'honesty from your PBCC EB spokesperson ' That, my friend, is what we call an oxymoron.

    ReplyDelete
  3. It’s interesting to read that this group of Exclusive Brethren (the PBCC) are now “comfortable” about being known as a sect.

    The founding brethren of the 1820s-1830s in Ireland and England were commendably ecumenical in practice, rather than sectarian. They adopted no official sectarian title and welcomed and included inquirers and Christians from the various mainstream denominations. Among others, a number of scholarly clergymen from the Church of England and Non-Conformism associated with them in the 1830s and contributed substantially to their ministry and publications.

    In the late 1840s, however, J N Darby adopted an exclusive ecclesiology. He felt that his precise understanding of how to be a church and how worship should be conducted was the only correct way in what he believed were the End Times. At that point many brethren decided not to emulate J N Darby and some became members of the Open Brethren, but up till now the Exclusive Brethren/PBCC have always followed the ecclesiastically exclusive route of the Darbyite tradition.

    I welcome the apparent about-turn of their declaration that they are now a mainstream church and I’m glad if they are “comfortable” to be a sect (denomination?) within the mainstream church; but the stumbling block of separation remains. It’s unconscionable that any mainstream church would follow a directive not to eat or drink with non-members.

    The early brethren of the 1820s-1830s came out of and were familiar with mainstream protestantism in Ireland and England and they didn’t view non-members as unworthy table companions. Perhaps one of the difficulties for the PBCC now is that their current leaders and members have no experience of worshipping, praying and studying with non-PBCC Christians. As far as I know, they aren’t involved in any ecumenical activity. They don’t understand what’s expected of a group which calls itself a sect of the mainstream church.

    I hope, but am not sure, that the PBCC has accepted that they are now on a learning curve and urgently need to address the whole matter of separation from non-members. I’m still under the impression that they don’t know that you can’t be a mainstream church and refuse to eat and drink with non-members. It’s only cults that behave like that.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I do not think the HEB/PBCC leadership accept they even have a toe on the learning curve yet. It goes against everything they believe in re the inherent rightness of The Position, to imagine they can learn anything from the outside world! I think you have only glimpsed to a small degree the inbred level of self-righteousness present in today's HEB, Joan; its incipience was Darby, and it has festered and sprouted noxiously since then, with much added fertiliser from two (now three - Gareth apparently is on the up) Halesian decades.

      Delete
  4. The word “cult” has several meanings. In some contexts it simply means a form of worship; in some contexts it implies doctrinal eccentricity; but the article above uses the word in its sociological sense, defined by the way an organisation treats people.

    In deciding whether to call an organisation a church, a charity, a sect or a cult, I tend to ask who its beneficiaries are. The ideal church or charity exists mainly or purely for the benefit of its non-members, and it does this in a self-sacrificial way. A sect usually exists mainly for the benefit of its members. A cult usually benefits or enriches mainly its leader or leaders, often at the expense of its members.

    There are hundreds, perhaps even thousands of cults operating in developed and undeveloped countries alike. Apart from benefiting their leaders, they have many other common characteristics. They all have barriers to exit, making it difficult to leave. People who want to leave are usually treated badly. They insist on agreement with and obedience to their leaders. They suppress dissenting opinions. They discourage independent thinking. They often restrict education. They paint an exaggerated picture of the virtues of their leader. They denounce rival churches. They practise separation from non-members. They make heavy demands on the time of their members. They claim to have a uniquely privileged access to spiritual or other truth. They depict the outside world as dark, evil and dangerous. They undermine or discourage special friendships and natural links, especially with non-members. They do not allow freedom of expression. They usually have a patriarchal power structure.

    The only feature characteristic of most cults but not found in the Hales fellowship is that most of them actively recruit new members, sometimes specifically targeting those that are emotionally vulnerable, those that are immature, or those that are wealthy. Recruitment to the Exclusives from outside their flock in the 19th and early 20th Centuries was almost entirely from other churches, not from new converts, and it dried up almost completely by about 1950. It is now extremely rare for anyone to become a member without having been born into it and having been intensively indoctrinated from childhood. Almost no one else ever finds their peculiar teachings the least bit credible or attractive.

    ReplyDelete
  5. It's interesting that they now describe themselves as a sect. That's an admission of not being a mainstream church. Well, we'd all got that one figured already.

    It may be true that their charitable status has not been questioned *in Australia*, with that sort of double speak being common in cults and other evasive entities.

    It's interesting the journalists should approach the EB expecting them to be on the list of charities being investigated by the ACNC. Their bad press goes before them.

    It's interesting they use, as expected, their RRT as evidence of being charitable. It shows how people don't check out where the sudden help and benefit is coming from. It's not just ignorant British MPs, but ignorant/self-benefitting event organisers who permit them to be there.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Looks like this sad and sorry site is about to close...
    Cheers

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. And so spoke an exclusive brethren peeb a person who from birth has been brought up to despise truth and hate those who speak it

      Delete
    2. Not exactly. The Exclusive Brethren in general don’t consciously despise truth. They are told they should respect truth, but they often fail to distinguish truth from falsehood. They swallow the most ridiculous rubbish and deny many truths that are based on an abundance of sound evidence.

      They could benefit from some elementary lessons on how to distinguish truth from falsehood, and permission to think for themselves.

      Delete
    3. Therein lies the eventual decimation of the EB/PBCC. Starts as simply as 'thinking'.

      Delete
    4. If thinking for myself is by permission, it is not thinking for myself.
      Or is it?
      12 Mini

      Delete