With the Victorian state election due tomorrow, the Exclusive Brethren have intervened to buy newspaper advertisements to warn against parties with "radical and extreme policies". Brethren member Ernest Morren authorised ads this week in Melbourne’s two main newspapers, The Age and the Herald Sun headed "Warning: the future of Victoria is at stake on Saturday". The ads do not explicitly name any party but they warn “persons promoting radical and extreme policies” could gain control of Victoria’s upper house. The radical policies that Morren is worried about include drug laws, gay marriage and opposition to new dams. The Greens, expected to poll well this weekend, fit the description to a tee.
Despite their exhortation to voters, the Exclusive Brethren will not be able to lead the fight. Brethren do not vote as voting interferes with God's right to ordain who rules. As their name would suggest, they are extremely exclusive. As well as avoiding polling booths, they also shun contact with technology, books, TV, radio and non-Brethren. However they appear to be taking a new direction under their leader, the Elect Vessel, whom mere mortals know as Sydney businessman Bruce Hales. He is behind the current activism that seems at odds with their beliefs.
Victoria is not the first election where they have taken direct action having come to prominence in the 2004 federal election. Then in March 2006, Tasmania went to the polls. In the week prior to the election, two members of the Exclusive Brethren placed newspaper ads urging Tasmanians not to vote for the Greens. Two half-page advertisements attacked Greens policies on same-sex marriages and transgender rights. Liberal Party members admitted to meeting the Exclusive Brethren before the election campaign. State director Damien Mantach refused to admit what was discussed but said there was nothing untoward in the meetings.
The Brethren also campaigned against the New Zealand Greens in their 2005 election. The Brethren followed their Australian federal election tactics and released identical pamphlets headlined "Beware!" and "The Green Delusion" in a well-funded half million dollar campaign. Opposition leader Don Brash initially denied knowing who was behind the pamphlets but later reveal4d he was told about the campaign during a meeting with Brethren representatives a month from the election.
Brash lost despite the support of the Brethren. And this week he announced his resignation as party leader when the caucus meets on Monday. It comes after months of speculation over his future and ahead of the release of a book that documented links between his National Party and the Exclusive Brethren. Author Nicky Hagen’s new book The Hollow Man is out today after a court injunction against it was lifted. The book said the two parties met at a National Campaign Strategy Meeting. The Exclusive Brethren launched a major pamphlet campaign against the Labour government's defence and anti-nuclear policies. Hager claims Brash supported the campaign despite misgivings from his own party members. The Brethren, as usual, are making no comments on the allegations.
Bruce Hales took over leadership of the 42,000 strong worldwide Brethren after his father John died in 2002. Hales Jnr managed the political awakening of the organisation. He told members in 2004 if George W. Bush and Australian PM John Howard were not re-elected that year, "the rapture", or end of the world, would be near. Hales has met Howard and he (Hales) is a very powerful man, possibly a billionaire. Green Senator Christine Milne said, “Hales already seems to have ultimate authority in possibly hundreds, and maybe even thousands, of Exclusive Brethren companies, charities, trusts and enterprises on a worldwide basis.”
The Brethren were founded in the late 1820s in Dublin. Its founders were a group of men (John Nelson Darby, Anthony Norris Groves, John Bellet, Edward Cronin and Francis Hutchinson) who felt that the established Protestant Church had become too involved with the secular state and abandoned many tenets of Christianity. The first assembly in England was established at Plymouth in 1831 and Brethren are often called Plymouth Brethren to this day. In the 1840s they split in to Open and Exclusive branches. The former Church of Ireland minister John Nelson Darby led the Exclusive branch into an extreme removal from the secular world.
Exclusive Brethren members cut themselves off from outsiders to the extent of refusing to eat with them. They function as a cross between the masons and the Mansons, supporting and employing each other but ruthlessly ostracising any family members who stray from the flock. They are not allowed to use broadcast media because the Book of Revelation tells them that the devil is "the prince with the power of the air". But Hales seems to be at home with the power of print and is taking the brotherhood into a new and not-so-exclusive direction. They will be a force to be reckoned with at the Australian next federal election in 2007.