Review of a paper by Bernard Doherty of Macquarie University.
The title of the paper is The ‘Brethren Cult Controversy’: Dissecting a Contemporary Australian ‘Social Problem’ and it is published in the peer-reviewed journal Alternative Spirituality and Religion Review, Volume 4, Issue 1 (2013) pages 25-48.
I think the value of this paper lies mainly in its meticulous record of the publicity surrounding the various controversial actions and practices of the Taylor/Symington/Hales sect. The author describes in great detail how the sect within 10 years (presumably he means from about 2003 to 2013) went from being a relatively obscure, if sporadically controversial, religious group to being seen as political lepers. He argues that the change occurred not because the sect changed very much, but mainly because of an increase in social visibility and media effectiveness. Towards the end of the paper he predicts that the publicity will make it politically easier for the Australian government to exercise closer scrutiny of controversial religious groups, but he emphasises that this must be done in a scrupulously objective manner.
The controversial actions and practices or alleged actions and practices that he mentions, along with details of the media responses to them include the following.
Separation from non-members.
Heckling Andrew Wilkie, candidate for the Australian Green Party in 2004, about the open homosexuality of his Party leader.
Special government treatment and exemptions from voting, union membership, military service and jury duty.
‘Brethren Invasion’ of rural and semi-rural areas across Australia.
Aggressive legal strategies in the Family Court.
School funding .
Financial support for the 1993 electoral campaign of Liberal prime-ministerial hopeful John Hewson.
Support for John Howard in his 2004 campaign.
Involvement in the 2005 General Election in New Zealand.
The anti-Greens campaign in the 2006 Tasmanian state election, using pamphlets that criticized the Greens’ policies on same-sex marriage, adoption, illegal drugs, the economy, health, and contained a strong anti-LGBT message.
Harrowing personal accounts of mistreatment of members and ex-members.
The Aberdeen scandal.
Large payments made by members to leaders.
Subjugation of women.
The author does not perceptibly take sides in any of the disputes and controversies that he describes. He is more concerned to understand what happened and why.
The paper runs to 24 pages and includes quite a bit about methodology and other topics of interest only to specialists, but here are some excerpts of bits that happened to catch my eye, bits that may be of interest to readers of WikiPeebia.