A fanatical cult operating in Byron Bay could be brainwashing people, a federal Minister warned yesterday.
Larry Anthony said he had grave concerns about the New Christian Church of the Full Endeavor. The church - a branch of the Wisconsin-based Endeavor Academy - has come under scrutiny from immigration authorities following the suicides of two church members during the past 18 months.
It is understood a master teacher with the cult, American Eugene Shearn, was refused re-entry to Australia earlier this year after his visa was revoked. The visa of the other principal of the Byron Bay church, Theodore H Poppe II - known as Hector - is under review.
The church, which in the mid-1990s ran its spiritual bootcamp at Westbrook, outside Toowoomba, is attempting to regain a foothold in Queensland. Church member Margo Knox, a former child protection officer with NSW Family Services, said the church was looking at taking its teachings, based on the Course in Miracles and the 12 Step Program familiar to members of Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous, into the Queensland prisons system.
A spokesman for the Corrective Services Department said no formal approach to work with prisoners had yet been lodged by the church. Any application would be referred to the department's chaplaincy board for advice, he said. Mr Anthony, whose federal electorate of Richmond takes in Byron Bay where the church is under the name "Miracle Centre," issued a strong warning against people getting involved with the 80-strong cult.
"I've had grave concerns about this group for quite some time," Mr Anthony said. "Many constituents have come to see me (who have had) family members or themselves tied up in this cult. And it has been very unhealthy.
"I think a lot of these fanatical cults, they brainwash people. They prey on very vulnerable people. "As the local member, I think people have to be very careful about getting involved in this particular cult."
In a statutory declaration written eight months before her death, one of the suicide victims said she experienced "horrific psychotic episodes" as a result of her five-year involvement in the cult.
Byron Bay psychologist Kieran Riordan, a former cult member, said the experience of participating in the church's program was "ungrounding."