Monthly Archives: April 2010

The Brisbane Christian Fellowship – A Government Sponsored Cult

Men never do evil so completely and cheerfully as when they do it from a religious conviction.

Blaise Pascal French mathematician, physicist (1623 – 1662)

For it is humility – the complete abasement of our own assessments and thought processes – that opens the way to freedom.

Tim Maurice,  Highlands Christian Fellowship  – June 2008

You may choose to look the other way but you can never again say you did not know.

William Wilberforce, 1789

Helen Pomery is a typical, upper-middle class woman – the absolute epitome of a well-to-do doctor’s wife. Tonight, well-dressed, immaculately made-up and hair carefully coiffed she stands in front of an audience of seventy people in the meeting room of a slightly shabby Brisbane pub.

“I was married for 30 years,” she explains. “My husband was a doctor – a gynaecologist and an obstetrician.  I was his practice manager.  I can’t prove it to you, but we had a normal, happy marriage.  We had three children.  We had a close and loving family.  My husband was a good man.”

Helen’s nightmare began after they moved from South Australia to Maryborough in the 1990s and began attending a normal looking church, full of normal looking, middle-class people.  Some time after, the couple moved to Brisbane after Helen’s husband expressed a wish to become more involved in his leadership work with the church – which is based at Samford, in Brisbane, but has satellite churches throughout the country.

“There were no alarm bells,” says Helen. “The church presents so well – it doesn’t look like a cult.  No-one knowingly joins a cult.”

What Helen wasn’t told when she innocently joined the Brisbane Christian Fellowship (BCF) was that her husband would be persuaded to transfer his loyalty from his family to the church hierarchy and that she would be required to submit, unquestioningly, to him.  If this chain of command was not honoured, they were told, their entire family would suffer eternal damnation.  The responsibility of keeping his family under the submission of the Church falls to the husband.  Helen was not to know when she joined the BCF, beguiled by smiling, welcoming people and ‘wonderful music’, that the Church leaders would later subject her family to an ‘acid test’, setting husband against wife and parent against child, to ensure that their loyalty lay, not with each other, but with the Church and its supreme leader, Vic Hall.

“The dynamic wears you down,” Helen explains. “They screw with your mind.  They practice poisoning in small doses.”

During her 15 years with the BCF, Helen was forced to submit, without question, to her husband and the male elders of the church and she was punished arbitrarily when they deemed that she was not ‘on board’.  She was routinely instructed to produce written confessions to trumped up charges of disloyalty and threatened with various forms of exclusion if she did not comply.  She was told that she must not think for herself.  The Church, she says, calls for the ‘complete abasement of thought processes’.  Her role in the ‘divinely appointed’ order was to act only under the instructions of her husband, and his, to act only under the instructions of Vic Hall and the other church elders.

The BCF teaches that ‘an unsubmitted woman walks into insanity and then she walks into death’.  Worn down, psychologically abused, and on the brink of suicide, Helen wrote in her journal,  “The men want me to come to an end of myself – do they want me dead?”

“My life at that time was sheer survival,” she says.  But what was the price of self-preservation?  To fail to submit, she was told, was to condemn her entire family to eternal damnation.  Meekly invalidating herself, giving up her free will, her intelligence, her autonomy was, she was led to believe, the ultimate act of selfless love.

Cruelly, her misery was exacerbated by the fact that, “The more I was victimised, the more my husband was esteemed.”

Helen’s second daughter was the first to be excommunicated from the BCF and estranged from the family.  At 26 years old she wanted to date a man from outside the church.  Her father, in concert with Hall and the church elders, refused his permission.  She insisted on being free to make her own decision, and was evicted.  Helen was told she was to have no further contact with her daughter – ever.

“It’s not like coping with a loved-one’s death,” says Helen, who lost her father at around the same time.  “Death is normal.”

“To be asked to treat my daughter ‘as if’ she were dead, but knowing that she wasn’t, was torture – nobody understands the horror of being trapped inside a cult.”

Now Helen’s marriage is over.  She was evicted from her family home and left destitute and alone for the ‘sin’ of phoning her daughter to tell her she loved her.  When Helen confessed to her ‘crime’, she was given seven days to leave the house, excommunicated from her church, and prevented from seeing, or having contact with her two children and three grandchildren still trapped inside the cult.

As her husband informed her of this decision, he assured her, “I have never loved you more than I love you now.”

“He meant it,” Helen explains.  “He was convinced that the only way to save his family was to force us to submit.”  The church rules by fear.  Fear is the ultimate tool of control.

It has taken nine years, a stint in a USA deprogramming centre and long-term, on-going psychological counselling for Helen to reach the point where she is tonight – standing up and telling her story to a room full of strangers.

Helen now works with the Queensland Cult Information and Family Support network.  Since meeting with other cult survivors she has realized that her story is not unique.

“We have all lived through the same nightmare,” she says. “The names of the victims, the institutions and their ideologies may differ but they all operate the same way.”

And there are thousands of victims here in Australia.  At the recent Cult Information and Family Support (CIFS) conference, survivors from more than twenty different cults were represented.  Not all cults are religious, but many are.  And what should outrage ordinary Australians is that our government supports this abuse through tax exemptions and grants.

Indeed, the BCF is widely known as an abusive cult.  It has long since been exposed by its victims, on television, in a book, and on an internet forum where survivors tell their stories.  According to Helen, the BCF offers no charitable or welfare services or any other kind of community benefit.  And yet, their multi-million dollar income and property holdings are untaxed, simply because they are a ‘religious institution’ and, in accordance with a four hundred year old law, the state deems that the ‘advancement of religion’ is a charitable act in, and of, itself.  Further, our government supplies the BCF with grants to operate a ‘Bible School’ which reportedly runs only four ‘classes’ a year – has any government officer asked what is taught at this ‘institution’ or do they just blithely hand the money over, no questions asked?

And, what is the response of our esteemed politicians to this blatant abuse of tax-payer’s largesse, not to mention the psychological abuse of women and children within the cult?  They tell Helen they can’t get involved because they have to honour the ‘separation of church and state’ and people’s ‘freedom of religion’.

As Helen says, “Nobody chooses to join a cult.”  It is not a free choice.  The people who join such organizations are the victims of a ‘bait and switch’.  They may enter the ‘shop front’ of their own free will, but they don’t know that, ultimately,  their ‘free will’ is the price of admission.  Being drawn into a cult and being kept there by coercive persuasion and mind-control techniques has nothing to do with ‘freedom of religion’ – it is state-sponsored slavery, abuse and imprisonment.

The fact that our politicians turn a blind-eye to this abuse and pretend that there is nothing they can do is both despicable and inexcusable.

The French Government, does not subsidise any religion, either with grants or exemptions, so that they are not implicated in allowing religious cults to fleece their members, tax-free.  The British Government has recently introduced a ‘public benefit’ test for religious institutions seeking tax exemptions.  Why is this not being done in Australia?

Further, in 2001, the French Government instituted laws to guard against cultic abuse.  The French anti-cult law established the new crime of mental manipulation, defined as any activity or activities undertaken with the goal or the effect to create or to exploit the state of mental or physical dependence of people who are participating in the group’s activities and to infringe upon their human rights and fundamental liberties; to exert repeated pressures in order to create or exploit this state of dependence and to drive the person, against their will or not, to act (or abstain from acting) in a way which is heavily prejudicial to them.  Importantly, the French law allows for the criminal culpability and dissolution of a corporation or association whose members or leaders have been found engaging in such activities.

If such laws and protections can be enacted in other Western countries, they can be enacted here.  The defence that the state must allow ‘freedom of religion’ is a smokescreen for cowardice.  These religious institutions are about money and power – not religion – and religious institutions which actively seek to deny freedom of will and action to their adherents should not be protected by laws enacted to safeguard such freedoms.

Currently, the Australian federal and state governments not only fail to protect the interests of cult victims, they negligently enable cults like the BCF, the Exclusive Brethren and Scientology through tax-exemptions and grants.

In her quest to have the BCF’s abuses stopped, Helen Pomery has written letters to all politicians – state, federal and senators – three or four times, with minimal response.  Not only are they not interested in taking action, they seem intent on preventing action from being taken!  Just last month, Senator Nick Xenophon’s request for a Senate inquiry into the tax status of the Church of Scientology, following numerous claims of cultic abuse, was defeated by both major parties.    Xenophon has since vowed to continue his campaign and return to the Senate with a re-worded motion which may include a push for police to take criminal action against cults and allow for the prosecution of cult leaders whose actions cause psychological harm to their adherents.

Recently, a small glimmer of hope has been offered by Queensland Senator Sue Boyce, who would not support a ‘public benefit’ test for religious organizations but has forwarded a letter to the Federal Attorney-General, Robert McClelland, asking him to consider introducing legislation against psychological abuse.  CIFS Queensland has drafted a petition [downloadable here as a word document] aiming to persuade the Attorney-General that such legislation would receive popular support.

Generally, however, our politicians remain apathetic to and disinterested in the fate of Australians innocently entrapped in abusive cults.  Helen despairs that despite the personal testimonies of hundreds of people, the CIFS is still only achieving small, incremental changes.  But she will keep fighting – for herself, her family, and for the many others who have suffered as she has.  As Helen says, “I bear witness to the reality and the power of coercive persuasion and mind control, because I live with its impact every day of my life.”

Chrys Stevenson

Comments on this post are moderated but will be approved and published as soon as possible.

For an account of what cult survivors go through, please read Helen and David’s stories on this blog or on the campaign website – David’s Story;Helen’s Story.

Support for Victims and Survivors of the BCF & Similar Cults

2023 update: There is a new group, the Olive Leaf Network – to support people leaving closed cults like BCF. You can read more about them in this article –

Streetcar Foruma place for people who have left or are looking to leave EB or RFI type organisations and need support. With nearly 100 families from CF Groups around the Country, what is being said can no longer be ignored. If you chose to leave a CF you will have a voice and support here.

Cult Information and Family Supporta network for  families, friends, former members and concerned individuals working together towards a common goal, to provide support and develop awareness for those affected by high demand groups or cultic relationships

Similar Stories:

Please read David Lowe’s moving story about his experience with the BCF.  Here is a short extract:

…I really can’t believe how BCF has changed and affected my life. I lived under these controlling abusive men for 35 years of my married life and suffered irreparable damage to my home, my family, my heart and my whole being. Often I wake up in the night crying and I have been dreaming of my children. I am sick of having pain in my heart all the time. I have often felt like there’s a black hole that’s going to suck me in. In the aftermath of BCF they are still trying to kill me. I oscillate from feeling frustrated to being exhausted by the unbearable pain in my heart and mind. There is no time or place where you are free of the pain because our children are part of our very being. I have phoned my children on their birthdays and at Christmas and they will not talk to me.

I hold the elders accountable for violating the sanctity of our home and for poisoning my close, loving family relationships in an evil and perverted manner without any qualms or conscience. I spoke up on the ‘Four Corners’ programme last year because I have recovered enough to know that my story and my voice is important in this struggle against this evil dictatorship that holds so many innocent people captive by it’s corrupt doctrine and obsessive control.

How can a church do this to people and get away with it?


The God of Broken Hearts – Four Corners, 2008

You can view investigative journalist, Chris Masters’, Four Corners report on the Brisbane Christian Fellowship, featuring stories from several victims of the BCF.  Or you can read a transcript of the program.  Helen tells her story to Chris Masters here.

Further Action

1. Send a link to this story to your local, state and federal political representatives and ask if they have taken any action whatsoever to support people in Helen’s situation and, if not, why not?

2.  Disseminate Helen’s and David’s stories as widely as possible – either by writing about them yourself or linking to this page.  If you are writing about this subject, please link to the Streetcar forum and CIFS so that people within the BCF (or similar organizations), or planning to join it, can read the truth and seek support.

3.  Write to Nick Xenophon and support his efforts to make cults legally accountable for their actions.

Senator Nick Xenophon, Level 2, 31 Ebenezer Place, Adelaide 5000

4.  If you are willing to collect signatures for the petition to the Attorney-General, please download this petition form and return the signed form/s to:  CIFS, PO Box 4002, St Lucia South  Q  4067.

You may also wish to print up Senator Sue Boyce’s letter to the Attorney General as supporting information for your signatories. (Please note, the letter has two pages, click the thumbnail under the first page for page two, or see here.)

5. Write to your political representatives (state, federal and senate) asking them to:

a) support any future motions regarding an inquiry into organizations like Scientology, the Exclusive Brethren and the BCF

b) support a ‘public benefit’ test for religious exemptions or, ideally

c) call for the removal of all ‘as of right’ exemptions for religious institutions.

Gladly’s Book Recommendations

Gladly gets madder than a bear with a sore head at injustice and political cowardice.  If you feel the same way, you might like to read these books:

Apostles of Fear: A Church Cult Exposed by Morag Zwartz (includes Helen’s story) – available soon from Embiggen Books

Behind the Exclusive Brethren by Michael Bachelard

People In Glass Houses: An Insider’s Story Of Life In and Out Of Hillsong by Tanya Levin

The Cult Files: The inside stories of the world’s most intriguing cults and alternative new religions by Chris Mikul

God Under Howard: The rise of the religious right in Australian politics by Marion Maddox

Jesus Freaks: A True Story of Murder and Madness On the Evangelical Edge by John Lattin

The Purple Economy by Max Wallace

Why People Believe Weird Things by Michael Shermer

In Which We Speak of Militant Atheists, Australian History, Girlie Magazines and the Christian Pot Calling the Atheist Kettle Black

Australian Christian Lobby spokesman, Jim Wallace, shares his views (below) about the Global Atheist Convention held in Melbourne in March 2010.

I claim a right of reply.

“2,500 for an international conference … is not incredible … the national conference for these atheists some two years ago only had about 19 people there.”

Hmmm – from 19 people to 2,500 in just two years.  I’m not sure that a meeting of 19 people can be claimed as a ‘conference’ but still,  if Jim’s right, a 13,000 percent increase in just two years seems a rather remarkable rate of growth to me. Consider, the first Hillsong Conference had only 150 people and took 20 years to build to 30,000.  So, 2,500 as a starting point for future atheist conventions augurs well for the future.

“… what came out of this [the Global Atheist Convention] was a new militant atheism.”

Militant, eh?  Militant as in lobbying the government to deny basic human rights to Australian citizens?  Militant as in trenchantly opposing freedom of information?  Militant as in trying to force your values on people who don’t share them through government legislation?  Militant as in denying the rights of our elderly people to choose to die with dignity (meaning that many of them hang themselves instead)?  Yep – that’s militant, Jim but – oops, sorry – that’s the Australian Christian Lobby isn’t it?  Not the atheists.

“… this [the growth of atheism] is going to threaten our Christian heritage.”

Sorry to break this to you, Jim, but Australia doesn’t have a Christian heritage – it has a secular heritage (which, admittedly, you and your mate Mr Rudd are doing a fine job of destroying).

The convicts who came to Australia in 1788 despised the clergy for their corruption and their alignment with the status quo.  (Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose, eh?)  The early governors were so disinterested in religion that after waiting for years for the government to build him a church, the first chaplain finally paid for one out of his own pocket.  When the prisoners were forced to attend, they burned it down.

The bushmen immortalised by Banjo Paterson and Henry Lawson were practical atheists.  History records that travelling outback preachers were the subject of disdain – there are even stories about them being paid to go away.

The Chartists, whose British movement inspired the Eureka Stockade, were largely atheists.  The founding fathers of Australian Federation fought for a secular nation – not a Christian one.  While people like Alfred Deakin, Sir Samuel Griffith and Andrew Inglis-Clarke toiled hard to draft a secular Constitution, church leaders busied themselves by bickering over who should have precedence at the Federation ceremonies.

Many of our finest Prime Ministers and political leaders have been atheists. For example, we owe our national health system and the beginning of a more respectful attitude towards Aborigines to atheist, Gough Whitlam, and his largely atheist cabinet. (You might recall, Jim, it was your Christian missionaries who stole children from Aboriginal parents causing untold misery for thousands.)

Today, Australia is one of the most secular nations in the world with less than 8% of its population regularly attending a place of worship.

“… Richard Dawkins was worried about the decline of the church and what might replace it.”

You’re clutching at straws, Jim.  I don’t recall who mentioned this at the Convention – I doubt it was Dawkins.  But, whoever said it, the context of the remark was simply that many of the people rejecting the church in their droves are turning to new age ‘woo’ which has no more evidence than religion – but is probably a damn site less harmful. Your implication that Dawkins was afraid that what might replace religion may be much worse is deliberately misleading.  After all, I haven’t noticed too many psychics or astrologers blowing up abortion clinics, being involved in long-term institutional child-abuse, or starting bloody protracted holy wars.

“… the West’s wealth [in comparison to non-Christian countries] … we say, is the blessing of God, because it’s maintained its Christian heritage.”

Really, Jim?  So it isn’t hundreds of years of Western imperialism, the bloody invasion of foreign countries, the exploitation of their resources and cheap labour, control of global markets and the bully-boy tactics of Western governments that has made the West wealthy, but God?  Geez, you learn something every day.  It must be nice, Jim, to feel so smugly deserving while your ‘loving God’ condemns children in third-world countries to starve to death because their countries aren’t Christian.

But there are more important things to worry about than starving children, aren’t there, Jim? Let’s worry, instead, about well-fed Western children glimpsing a bit of bum or boob in girlie magazines. Far more important!

“We’ve all gone into petrol stations and the like and we’ve seen these [pornographic] magazines which are there … at very low level … even a child’s level … they should be only sold in adult stores.”

Interesting point.  You have to be 17 years old to drive a car, why would a small child be in a petrol station without a parent or adult present?  If your point is that children should be better supervised, I’m right with you, Jim.  But, tell me, just how many unattended 6-10 year olds have you noticed loitering around your local petrol station?

Actually, if you want to start protecting children from dangerous and unsuitable literature, may I suggest you start with your own holy book which contains some of the most ghastly, bloodthirsty, unjust violence ever described, reportedly perpetrated by, or at the instructions of, the God you want innocent children to worship.

This is the book which commands that children who curse their parents should be put to death  (Leviticus 20:9), which describes (with no condemnation) how Lot’s daughters got him drunk and had sex with him (Genesis 19:30-38), which tells of how Elisha, beloved of God, cursed some children who were teasing him for being bald and how the Lord sent two bears from the woods to maul forty-two of the children (Kings 2:22-24). I could go on, but really, it’s not just unsuitable literature for children, it’s pretty sickening for adults too.

The truth is, Jim, I find the literature that you tout offensive and dangerous, violent, racist, homophobic and sexist.  It’s certainly literature I wouldn’t want children exposed to – but you don’t see we ‘militant atheists’ campaigning to ban the Bible, do you?

“… the Australian Christian Lobby has been very much against the growing sexualisation of children in our society …”

Jim, perhaps you should take a closer look at some of those magazines. There are photos of naked, consenting adults in there, not naked children. It’s highly dishonest of you to conflate the availability of adult magazines to adults and the sexualisation of children.  They are two, completely separate issues.

Or rather, why don’t you just give up this obsession you have with girlie magazines and take another look at your Bible – which actually has some diamonds among the dross.  Here’s a useful passage for you:

“And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?” (Matthew 7:3)

Chrys Stevenson

See Also:  ACL must stand up against “militant atheism” by Sean the Blogonaut

We have to oppose this Atheist Movement – Jim Wallace, by Distroman, Distro’s Blog

Further Action:

1. Learn more about the Australian Christian Lobby and let others know it is not a community lobby group.

The Australian Christian Lobby likes people to think that it is a community lobby group, but this is not the case. In fact, the ACL is is a privately owned, legally secretive, company, which has ‘supporters’, not ‘members’. It is the private board of the ACL which makes decisions about what issues they will lobby on – they do not have a democratic structure in which members can vote and directors are invited on to the board by the board itself – they are not elected by any membership. Read more here.

2. Write to the Prime Minister and tell him you object to the Australian Christian Lobby’s undue influence on the Labor Government and let him know it will effect your vote at the next election.

Prime Minister
PO Box 6022
House of Representatives
Parliament House
Canberra ACT 2600


2. Join a group which opposes the ACL’s aims to de-secularise the Australian government and impose Christian values and prejudices on all Australians – regardless of their own beliefs. These may include an atheist, rationalist, freethought, humanist, secular or even a skeptics group.

3. When you see the ACL campaigning against the rights of Australians to freedom from religion, write a letter to the relevant politician and/or a letter to the editor of the newspaper you read the article in. Make your voice heard.

Gladly’s Book Recommendations

Gladly is a gentle, atheist bear who acts according to his own conscience, not the directions of a violent and capricious deity.  Gladly would not even consider mauling a child because they called some old guy ‘baldie’.

If this post has given you ‘paws’ for thought, Gladly thinks you might enjoy the following further reading:

Evil Bible

The Skeptics Annotated Bible

A Secular Age by Charles Taylor

American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America by Chris Hedges

Holy Hatreds: Religious Conflicts of the 90s by James A Haught

Beyond Belief:  Skepticism, Science and the Paranormal, by Martin Bridgstock

Australian Legend by Russell Ward, Oxford University Press

Convicts, clergymen and churches : attitudes of convicts and ex-convicts towards the churches and clergy in New South Wales from 1788-1851, by Allan Grocott, Sydney University Press, Sydney, NSW.

Religion books, secular books, and history books are all available online from Embiggen Books, Australia.

Labor’s Double Standard on Church/State Separation

Wilson campaigns outside Qld's Parliament House

Since 2006, Hugh Wilson, a parent of three teenage boys, has devoted countless hours campaigning for a secular state education system. As a member of the Australian Secular Lobby, Wilson has communicated extensively with the Queensland Minister for Education – both in writing and in person.

The Education Minister and the Premier remain intransigent, however. Wilson has been told, plainly, that the Queensland government has no intention of restoring the clause, removed from the Education Act in 1910, which guaranteed that children would not be exposed to religious doctrine within the Queensland state education system. In refusing the request of the Australian Secular Lobby, backed by hundreds of non-religious parents throughout the State, the Queensland Labor government clearly rejects the principle of the separation of church and state.

The Williams Family

Ron Williams is also a member of the Australian Secular Lobby. A father of six, Williams and his wife, Andrea, assumed that by placing their children in Queensland state schools their right to have them protected from religious indoctrination would be respected. They were mistaken.

In 2008, Williams became the subject of international media interest when he announced his intention to take legal action against his youngest daughter’s prep teacher and school principal. He first became concerned when his daughter came home from school upset about the animals that were soon to drown in the ‘rain that God made’. He later discovered, that despite his express wishes to the contrary, the child had been exposed in her classroom to a movie based on the story of Noah’s ark and a bookshelf full of children’s biblical titles and had been involved in building a large cardboard replica of Noah’s Ark. Williams was also forced to withdraw his two oldest children from another school when it employed a chaplain and, such is his commitment to secular education, he is currently mounting a High Court challenge against the Federal government’s funding of the National School Chaplaincy program.

Another Queensland father, posting on an internet forum, recounted similar concerns. On enrolling his young daughter at his local state school he clearly indicated, in writing, that he wished the child to be exempt from religious instruction. Imagine his surprise when he took her to the park to feed bread to the ducks, and she said, “Daddy, why are you feeding the body of Christ to the ducks? You’ll go to hell for that.”

When he contacted the principal he was told, “Oh, sorry, yes, we accidentally included her in religious instruction classes. But, really, it wouldn’t make much difference because we just put the ‘opted out’ kids in the back of the classroom anyway.”

The Australian Secular Lobby receives hundreds of similar complaints from non-religious parents whose children are subjected to religious indoctrination in our state school system. And yet, the Education Minister and our atheist Premier, doggedly refuse to respect the concept of state/church separation and amend the Queensland Education Act.

Helen Pomery

Which brings me to the story of Helen Pomery. Helen Pomery was once a member of the Brisbane Christian Fellowship church – a fundamentalist group of 25 churches described by investigative journalist, Chris Masters, as ‘a small outwardly civilised church causing extraordinary harm’.

When Pomery’s younger daughter was excommunicated from the Brisbane Christian Fellowship, Pomery was instructed by her husband and the church elders to have no further communication with her.
“It was horrifying,” said Pomery. “I used to go and sit in her room and cry just for sheer terror of where was my daughter and what was happening to her.”

A year later, distraught and now defiant at being estranged from her daughter, Pomery was also expelled from the Church. This resulted in the breakdown of her marriage. On the brink of suicide, Pomery checked into a deprogramming centre in the USA to help recover her life and sanity.

Pomery is not the only person to suffer at the whim of this church. John Simmons, an ex-member of the Toowoomba Christian Fellowship was born into the church and confirms that breaking up families is:

“… deliberate and intentional to control people. They try to separate husband from wife. They would set a husband against a wife, a wife against a husband. They would try to put a wedge between children.

When Simmons and his wife left the church, their son, Haydn, was told to have no further contact with them. Haydn Simmons explains:

“I was just so torn apart, not knowing what to believe. Here’s my parents, my father and my mother and I’m not allowed to talk to them and [the Church is telling me] they’re bad people, they’re evil and the Lord God is punishing them …”

These concerns are not just being raised by the media and bitter ex-members. Even Baptist pastor, Greg Passmore, a brother-in-law of one of the church elders, spoke out about his concern for the psychological abuse imposed by this church on its followers. Passmore said, “… my heart breaks for people in that movement feeling trapped and dominated. Some of them are seeking help very, very secretly.”

Reporting on the cult on the Four Corner’s segment, “The God of Broken Hearts”, Masters asks, “In a civilised nation where all forms of penalties apply to perpetrators of grief and harm, how does a house of God get away with this?”

Helen Pomery is now divorced from her husband of 30 years and estranged from two of her children and three grandchildren. She alleges that the Brisbane Christian Fellowship ‘used intimidatory and abusive tactics to maintain control over members and was responsible for family break downs’. Backed by Greens’ leader, Bob Brown, Pomery called for a Senate inquiry into religious organizations, such as the Brisbane Christian Fellowship and the Exclusive Brethren, which allegedly practice such abuses, while still claiming government grants and tax exemptions.

Now, here is the kicker. Remember Hugh Wilson and Ron Williams and their failure to convince the Queensland Labor government to respect the need for a separation of church and state in our state school system? Well, apparently, Mrs Pomery has written to all Federal and State politicians about the Brisbane Christian Fellowship but says she has been told by Labor politicians that they were ‘reluctant to support an inquiry because they believed that religion and politics should remain separate.’

Is anybody seeing an egregious double standard here?

Submitting to pressure from religious groups, the Federal Labor government vetoed the ACT government’s decision to allow gay marriage (a decision based on nothing other than fundamentalist religious prejudice dogma). Further, Rudd and his band of merry Christians have happily ploughed millions of dollars into Exclusive Brethren schools and the National School Chaplaincy Program. Meanwhile, the NSW government has allowed the Anglican Church to vet the secular ethics classes to be trialled in that state to ensure they do not offend religious sensibilities. Both state and federal Labor governments have ploughed millions of dollars into supporting Catholic World Youth Day and the Parliament of the World’s Religions but ask them to mount an inquiry into harmful religious cults and they retreat behind the crumbling wall of state/church separation.

Senator Bob Brown has twice proposed an inquiry into the Exclusive Brethren but has failed to garner support. Similarly, the Senate has twice rejected Senator Nick Xenophon’s calls to launch an inquiry into Scientology, based on former members’ claims of abuse, coerced abortions and other offences.

How is it that our government is prepared to plead ‘separation of church and state’ as an excuse for not protecting Australian citizens from abusive religious cults but happily takes a bulldozer to that same wall on issues relating to education, same sex marriage, and the tax-payer funding of major religious events?

This farce must end. Our government and education systems must be secular and religious institutions must be subjected to scrutiny where there are allegations that adherents are being abused. Political decisions must not be based on religious prejudice and dogma, but upon evidence and reason. The Labor government has sold out to the religious right. The Liberal-National coalition did so long ago. Secular government will only be restored in Australia if we, the people, begin to demand it – through energetic lobbying and through the ballot box.  Labor must be called to account for its double standard on church/state separation.

Chrys Stevenson

Comments on this blog are moderated but will be approved and published as quickly as possible.


Overington, Caroline (2008), Genesis of a Complaint, The Australian, 5 December

Hill, Janine (2009), Coast Woman Calls for Cult Inquiry, Sunshine Coast Daily, 10 January

Masters, Chris (2008), The God of Broken Hearts – Transcript,  Four Corners, ABC  Television, 23 June

ABC News (2009), Brown Wants Exclusive Brethren Inquiry, 21 August

Bowden, Rich (2010), Second Xenophon Scientology Senate Inquiry Motion Defeated, The Angle.Org, 19 April

ABC Television (2010), Scientology – The X-Files, Documentary Preview

Maley, Jacqueline (2010), Keneally allows Anglican Church to vet content of ethics lessons, Sydney Morning Herald, 13 April

Further Action:

Please donate to or raise funds for the High Court Challenge to the National School Chaplaincy Program

Helen Pomery will be speaking for the QSkeptics at the Red Brick Hotel, cnr Annerley and Stephens Road, South Brisbane on Monday, 26 April from 6.00pm.  More details and RSVP here.

Express your views on a secular education system in Queensland by emailing Geoff Wilson, Queensland Minister for Education and Training at and/or the Premier, Anna Bligh, at .

Express your support for the NSW ethics classes trial to the NSW Premier, Kristina Keneally at or email Penny Sharpe, a supporter of the trial through her Facebook Page, website or by Twitter to @pennysharpemlc – Penny is forwarding all messages she receives on to the relevant minister.

Gladly’s Book Recommendations

Assaults on the separation of church and state are enough to make a bear go cross-eyed!   Gladly recommends the following further reading:

Hugh Wilson, Australian Education Minister Backs Cardinal Pell: ‘Secular Experiment Failed‘, Online Opinion, 9 July 2009

The War for Children’s Minds by Stephen Law

The Purple Economy: Supernatural Charities, Tax and the State by Max Wallace

Parenting Beyond Belief by Dale McGowan

Behind the Exclusive Brethren by Michael Bachelard

Dear Mr Rudd: Ideas for a Better Australia by Robert Manne (ed)

Education books, secular books, books on religion and books on Australian politics are all available online from Embiggen Books.

NSW Ethics Classes vs Scripture Classes – If Your Product’s a Dud, Don’t Blame the Competition, Jim

This week there’s a right brouhaha over the introduction of a course in secular ethics in New South Wales state schools.  Jim Wallace from the Australian Christian Lobby (ACL) is concerned that ethics classes will undermine scripture teaching in New South Wales schools.

Wallace fears that the introduction of ethics classes is part of a wider secularist agenda to push religious education out of schools. He’s wrong.  I don’t know of any atheist or secularist who opposes the teaching of the cultural significance and literary history of the world’s religions to students – and that’s what religious education is.

What scripture classes offer, however, is not religious education but religious instruction.  In other words, children are not being asked to study religion in an academically detached way, but are being instructed on how to be religious.  These are two entirely different things.

As Hugh Wilson of the Australian Secular Lobby said in an interview on Brisbane’s 4BC radio this week, if you don’t understand the difference, consider whether you’d like your children to be given ‘sex instruction’ in place of  ‘sex education’!

Poor old Jim Wallace.  He is really not coping with the fact that religion is simply not relevant to today’s youth or their parents.  He says:

“We are now hearing reports of volunteer Scripture teachers at one of the 10 trial schools losing up to 60 per cent of their classes to the government’s new program – something understandable if a new subject is being offered in competition with Scripture.”

And who is to blame for that?  If parents supported the scripture classes, they wouldn’t be letting their children attend the alternative.  All this shows is that, until now, parents have been letting their children take scripture classes because the only alternative was to have them sit around twiddling their thumbs for an hour a week.

And what about the kids?  Why aren’t they clamouring to stay in their scripture classes?  Because what is being taught is obviously irrelevant, boring and didactic.

Competition is good, Jim!  Competition encourages higher achievement.  It motivates all parties to lift their act, improve their ‘product’ and to make sure their message is relevant to their target market.  If your product can’t compete,  you either have to improve it, update it or accept that it’s obsolete.  There’s no point bitching that you should have a monopoly on children’s minds – that just won’t wash any more.  Worse, it’s an abject admission that you have an old, out of date product with a fatally tarnished reputation that you just can’t sell in an open market.

If your product’s a dud, Jim, don’t blame the competition.

Chrys Stevenson

Comments on this blog are moderated but will be approved and published as quickly as possible.


The Australian Book of Atheism by Warren Bonett, with a chapter by Chrys Stevenson and chapters on religion and education by Kylie Sturgess, Hugh Wilson, Professor Graham Oppy, and Graham Lindenmayer will be available Australia wide in all good bookstores from Monday, 22 November 2010.

See Also:

Dr Leslie Cannold’s excellent article “Kids need protection from ads – and Bible bashers” – The Age 20/6/10

Further Action:

NSW MLC Penny Sharpe supports the ethics program.  Let her know what you think – Jim’s crowd certainly have.

Email Penny
Tweet: @PennySharpemlc
Penny’s Facebook Page

Gladly’s Book Recommendations

Gladly may be cross-eyed but he loves to read!

Gladly’s favourite book store for online purchases is Embiggen Books Australia’s specialists in philosophy books, education books and atheism books.  If you liked this article, you might like to read these books (and, if you didn’t like it, maybe you should read them!):

The Bear Necessities


I’m Chrys Stevenson, a freelance writer and researcher from Queensland’s Sunshine Coast.

These days, I tend to do more researching than writing, but when I really get a bee in my bonnet, I still like to have a good vent here at the Cross-Eyed Bear.

My current research focuses on women’s issues (including #metoo and domestic violence), Australian social and cultural history, and voluntary assisted dying. My clients include some of the country’s leading journalists, writers, academics and media personalities. It’s a job I literally fell into by accident but one I love.

My own writing tends to focus on religion and politics; specifically the intrusion of Christian fundamentalism into Australian politics and our public institutions. I was the ‘scribe’ for the team (led by Ron Williams) that twice took the Federal Government to the High Court over the National School Chaplaincy Programme. I wrote the first chapter of The Australian Book of Atheism (Warren Bonnet, editor), and I’ve written for ABC’s Religion and Ethics, New Matilda, Online Opinion, the King’s Tribune, The Big Smoke and numerous other online journals. I’m probably best known for my article about the Australian Christian Lobby – Is the Australian Christian Lobby Dominionist? Short answer – yes.

I also write on gender politics. My blog post, Defending Deveny (a transcript analysis of ABC’s Q&A) and my King’s Tribune article “The Blokeyness Index” (an analysis of gender representation in the Australian media) have both been cited extensively in various books and articles.

I’m passionate about honesty, fairness and personal responsibility. I’m left leaning, but I’m not a member of any political party and I’ll happily criticise all of them. The two maxims I live by are: “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men [and women] do nothing” and “Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster.”

I hope you’ll enjoy “Gladly, the Cross-Eyed Bear”. If you’re wondering about the name of this blog, it’s a mondegreen taken from the hymn, Gladly the Cross I’d Bear.




If you like my writing, you can see more of it scattered across the internet. My LinkedIn profile

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Many thanks to Glenn Watson for producing the Gladly, the Cross-Eyed Bear image and the ‘new look’ Gladly blog. Thanks also to Wikipediatrician extraordinaire,  Susan Gerbic (Guerrilla Skepticism on Wikipedia) for the photo.