Category Archives: Politics

Left Right Out by Labor

I was just 14 years old when Whitlam’s Labor Government stormed into office in 1972, but I still remember the feeling of excitement and anticipation that ‘something big’ had just happened and that Australia would never be the same again.

Once in office, Whitlam set to implementing his policies with iron resolve and an almost unseemly haste. Well may we question the fiscal responsibility of the Whitlam government but we still live with the benefits of their brave, take no prisoners reforms: multiculturalism, Medicare, free university education and the first moves towards Aboriginal reconciliation to name just a few.

I felt the same sense of breathless anticipation when Rudd was elected. He was young, energetic, ambitious and seemed intent on sweeping aside the crushing conservatism of the Howard years, just as Whitlam had done thirty-five years before. He started boldly with an apology to the Stolen Generation – surely this foreshadowed a commitment to other social justice issues? He followed with the 2020 summit, giving ordinary Australians input into building a vision for Australia’s future. We dared to hope for an inclusive, representative government that would actually listen to what the ordinary citizens of Australia really wanted.

Sold a Pup

Do you know the feeling when you see a trailer for a movie and think ‘that’s going to be amazing’, but when you actually see the film you realize the only good bits were in the preview and even they don’t move the story along much? That’s how I feel about the Rudd government. We were sold a pup. Up front we got a big, glossy, exciting bells-and-whistles wind-up, but the whole thing just turned out to be a disappointing flop that failed for want of good direction.

Rudd may have patiently listened to your views at the 2020 summit but he has since rejected all of your silly ideas and just gone on his own merry, conservative, non-consultative way.  He may have apologised to the Stolen Generation, but what has he done for indigenous people since?

The Rudd government is not the reformist government we expected.  Rudd is not the alternative to Howard we were promised.  Rudd is just Howard in a blonde wig.  He has sold out the Labor left.  Indeed, there are even some of us who considered ourselves more centrists than lefties – and even we are left feeling that the political rug has been pulled out from under our feet.

The overwhelming feeling of those who have been hung out to dry by a party many have supported all their lives is anger, betrayal and dismay.

Prior to his election, Rudd claimed to be a Christian socialist. He now claims he has never been a socialist. (I’m just waiting for the day he concedes he’s never been a Christian either!) Citing Bonhoeffer as his inspiration, Rudd had us believing that his was a religionless Christianity steeped in a commitment to social justice rather than religious dogma. We expected a liberal Christian – what we got was a new best friend for the arch-conservative extreme right-wing religious nutters at the Australian Christian Lobby.

The Exclusive Brethren and Other Cults

Prior to his election, Rudd denounced the Exclusive Brethren as a ‘dangerous cult’.  After his election Rudd’s government continued to provide millions of dollars to the cult enabling them to keep their children isolated from the general population and actively dissuade them from pursuing tertiary studies.  Further, Labor has refused to support the inquiry into the tax status of Scientology proposed by Senator Nick Xenophon, frightened that it may open a Pandora’s Box regarding the tax-exempt status of more mainstream  religious institutions.  Neatly brushing the issue aside, Senator Ludwig said that the government preferred to wait for the results of the Henry Tax Review – the recommendations of which have since been substantially rejected.

Bill of Rights

In more sleight of hand, Rudd agreed to a public inquiry into an Australian Bill of Rights. Ignoring the blatant conflict of interest, he appointed Father Frank Brennan to head the inquiry, despite the Catholic Church’s official opposition to the concept. Reflecting the strength of feeling encountered in the public consultations, Brennan’s National Human Rights Consultation committee recommended the adoption of a Human Rights Act but Rudd’s government refused to accept the recommendation of its own inquiry. Adding salt to the wound, the Liberal Party controlled Menzies Research Centre claimed the defeat of the Bill of Rights as ‘a significant victory for the Menzies Research Centre and the Coalition’. Just remind me, who is Rudd supposed to be representing – the Labor party, the majority of Australians or the Liberal conservatives?

Asylum Seekers

With a self-confessed Christian socialist in charge, we may well have hoped that the Rudd Government would foster a kinder, more understanding public response to refugees rather than pandering to ill-informed populist scare-mongering. Perhaps they might launch an education campaign to explain why asylum seekers are neither ‘illegal’ nor ‘queue jumpers’. But no. Rudd’s approach to refugees has ceded to the same conservative populism which fed Howard’s policies. In fact, more and more, the Rudd solution leans towards the Howard government’s inhumane position of indefinite mandatory detention.

Gay Marriage

And so to homosexuals. In his article, “Faith in Politics”, Rudd said: “I see very little evidence that this pre-occupation with sexual morality is consistent with the spirit and content of the Gospels. For example, there is no evidence of Jesus of Nazareth expressly preaching against homosexuality.” But, when Rudd’s liberal views on homosexuality were put to the test, he folded. Rather than support the ACT’s move to allow gay marriage as a positive reform, Rudd’s government overturned it.

Climate Change

On climate change Rudd came out with all guns blazing. Climate change, he said, striking a statesmanlike pose, is ‘the great moral and economic challenge of our time’. His government’s Emissions Trading Scheme, he assured us, was one of the ‘most important structural reforms to our economy in a generation’. When getting the ETS through became too hard, however, Rudd did a Scarlett O’Hara – “Oh, fiddle-dee-dee, I’ll think about that tomorrow” – and stuck his climate change reforms in a drawer marked 2013. I have a vision of Rudd in a Scarlett O’Hara bonnet, driving his carriage out of town lickety-split as Atlanta … er …  Australia burns behind him.

Internet Censorship

The Rudd government’s $43 billion National Broadband Network is already being criticized as an outdated white elephant – even before the scheme has been introduced. Further, Senator Stephen Conroy, Rudd’s Minister for Communications is pushing a hugely unpopular, $125.8 million mandatory internet filter which will put Australians’ freedom of information on par with countries like China and Iran – and, if the IT experts are correct, substantially slow internet speeds. And it’s not just a few computer geeks grumbling about the assault on Australians’ freedom. In January, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said that internet freedom was central to American foreign policy and that the US would actively resist efforts by governments seeking to censor the internet. Subsequently, the Obama government has raised its concerns about the plan with the Australian Government while child protection agencies have noted that the filter will have no effect whatsoever in protecting children from sexual predators or abuse.

Many rank and file Labor voters are astounded that a Labor government would even consider a policy that undermines Australians’ basic freedoms and dismayed to find that Rudd and Conroy are working, hand in glove, with the right-wing Australian Christian Lobby on the implementation of the scheme. In fact, in December it was revealed that the results of Conroy’s internet filtering trial had been shared exclusively with the Australian Christian Lobby – leaving other stakeholders out in the cold.

One has to ask what backroom deals have been done between the Rudd Government, Conroy, Family First Party Senator Fielding and the Australian Christian Lobby to make Labor ignore the advice of IT experts and child welfare agencies and risk the ire, not only of the vast majority of internet users but the American government? Is the Labor government selling us out to the right-wing conservatives for 30 pieces of electoral silver?

National School Chaplaincy Program

And then we have the National School Chaplaincy Program (NSCP). This ridiculous scheme was instituted by the Howard Government. According to the Australian Secular Lobby, even the Coalition never intended it as a long-term policy. But, to the dismay of Labor voters, it has not only been continued, but expanded under Rudd. I am sure I’m not the only one who shudders to think what the evangelical chaplains provided by the Scripture Union are telling young people who confide in them about same-sex attraction, pre-marital sex, or unwanted pregnancies. If our children need support and advice within the school system surely this should come from qualified, unbiased counselors – not from largely unqualified people with a clear religious agenda? The NSCP is yet more evidence that Rudd has sold out the Labor party to the conservative right.

As the Australian Secular Lobby rightly says:

“The question for ordinary tax-paying Australians must be, “Do we elect politicians to make decisions in the openness of parliament and in the full glare of the media, or are we happy to have secretive evangelical groups undertaking ‘quiet work’ to determine what is, or is not, in Australia’s ‘national interest’?”

Left Right Out

In the Sunday Age today, national political reporter, Josh Gordon writes:

“Understandably, the left today might be feeling a tad disillusioned and disenfranchised … One prominent Labor backbencher said there was a growing perception that Rudd had sacrificed the aspirations of traditional rank-and-file supporters in a Howard-esque pitch to swinging voters.
”We are getting quite a lot of emails which are critical of the positions that have been taken about carbon trading and asylum seekers,” the MP said. ”If you show up at ALP branch meetings you do see a certain amount of frowns and folded arms and so on. I think there is some concern among the leadership base about those things.”

The MP is right and I have some inside information that an internal Labor Party poll shows that Rudd’s overt religiosity and pandering to the religious right is a matter of considerable concern within the party. Traditional Labor voters are disillusioned, disenfranchised, angry and betrayed. Rudd has left the left right out. He promised a Labor government and delivered a Liberal conservative government in all but name.

Further, Rudd’s efforts to woo the ‘moral majority’ for Labor doesn’t seem to be doing him much good. This week’s Newspoll results show the Rudd government trailing the Coalition on a two-party basis (49-51 per cent) with an 11-point drop in the PM’s satisfaction rating to 39 per cent. Fifty per cent of voters, it appears, are dissatisfied with Rudd’s performance. Seems those votes the Australian Christian Lobby promised you just weren’t worth the price, Kev!

A vote for the Greens may well be a vote for Labor – for now – but the Greens are gaining in strength, attracting a broader base and, at the next election, it is highly likely that Labor’s left will desert in large numbers. Rudd and his cronies would do well to look at the UK election results in which the Liberal Democrats now hold the balance of power and will largely determine who leads the country. The left may be disenfranchised, Kevin, but we don’t necessarily need you to win.

Chrys Stevenson

First-time comments on this blog are moderated but will be approved and published as soon as possible.

Read Also

Abbott’s Contrasting Role Revealed in Black and White by Leslie Cannold for a similar analysis of the Opposition leader.

Sources

The Legacy of the Whitlam Government – Modia Minotaur – Friday, November 11, 2005

Are Asylum Seekers Illegal? – Asylum Seeker Project – Hotham Mission

Politics and religion: crossed paths – David Marr, Sydney Morning Herald, 25 December 2009

A matter of church and state, Amanda Davey, Mosman Daily, 5 April 2010

Faith in Politics, Kevin Rudd, The Monthly, October 2006

Rudd’s dangerous climate retreat, Paul Kelly, The Australian, 29 April 2010

US reveals concerns over Conroy’s net filter plan, Paul Colgan, The Punch, 29 March 2010

Conroy will be censoring people, not the internet, Nina Funnell, Sydney Morning Herald, 17 December 2009

Rudd praises ‘quiet work’ of evangelicals: evangelicals undermine Liberal Party and ‘national interest’, Australian Secular Lobby

Figures prove hard for PM to swallow, Michelle Grattan – The Age, 5 May 2010

Policies Overboard, Josh Gordon – Sunday Age, 9 May 2010

Further Action

1. Consider supporting the Australian Greens at the next election – particularly in the Senate. It is not a ‘wasted’ vote, if your Green candidate fails to win, your full vote will go to your next preference. You do not have to preference according to the Green’s ‘how to vote’ card – you may choose your preferences according to your own wishes. If Labor only wins because of Green’s preferences that sends a strong message to them about where their support is coming from.

2. Write to your local Federal Labor representative stating your dissatisfaction at the direction the Rudd Labor Government has taken.

3. Donate to the High Court Challenge which seeks to expose the government’s National School Chaplaincy Scheme as unconstitutional. (Paypal now available.)

4. Electronic Frontiers provides a list of ten things you can do to stop Conroy’s internet censorship scheme.

5. Write to Senator Nick Xenophon stating your support for an inquiry into Scientology and other similar organizations.
Senator.Xenophon@aph.gov.au
Level 2, 31 Ebenezer Place, Adelaide 5000

6. Collect signatures on a petition for Equal Marriage Rights in Australia

7.  Join the Facebook Group Kevin Rudd’s Lies and Broken Promises and invite your friends to join.

Gladly’s Book Recommendations

Gladly reckons his crossed eyes make him lean towards the left. He wonders if Kevin’s lurch toward the right and apparent short-sightedness might be corrected with a visit to a good optometrist. If you liked this article you might be interested in reading further from Gladly’s favourite online bookstore, Embiggen Books.

A Certain Grandeur: Gough Whitlam’s Life in Politics by Graham Freudenberg
It’s Time Again: Whitlam and Modern Labor by Colleen Lewis and Jenny Hocking
Dear Mr Rudd: Ideas for a Better Australia by Robert Manne
Exit Right: The Unravelling of John Howard by Judy Brett
God Under Howard: The Rise of the Religious Right in Australian Politics by Marion Maddox
Beautiful Lies: Australia from Menzies to Howard by Tony Griffiths
Behind the Exclusive Brethen by Michael Bachelard
The Statute of Liberty: How Australians can take back their human rights by Geoffrey Robertson
The Purple Economy: Supernatural Charities, Tax and the State by Max Wallace
Realizing Secularism: Australia and New Zealand by Max Wallace
Scorcher: The Dirty Politics of Climate Change by Clive Hamilton

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.

Important Notice

You can now lobby the government for better legal redress for cult survivors by giving just 2 minutes of your time. That’s all it takes.

We’ve set up a website asking Australian Federal Attorney-General, Robert McClelland, to look into providing legal redress for cult victims who have been psychologically abused.

In almost no time at all you can send a pre-drafted letter to Senator McClelland with a copy to the entireFederal Parliament.  Or, if you like, you can compose your own letter.

We’ve already had positive responses from two senators to this campaign, so it IS making a difference.

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

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.Xenophon@aph.gov.au

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

Email

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.

Sources:

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 education@ministerial.qld.gov.au and/or the Premier, Anna Bligh, at premier@ministerial.qld.gov.au .

Express your support for the NSW ethics classes trial to the NSW Premier, Kristina Keneally at thepremier@www.nsw.gov.au 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.