Manly residents rally against Exclusive Brethren plans to build churches in their suburbs

The Sunday Mail, Australia/July 25, 2010

Residents are calling it a cult "invasion". The secretive Exclusive Brethren Christian sect has been buying land and businesses at Manly West on Brisbane's bayside and in Gympie and moving in.

With their numbers growing, the Brethren sect has now sparked community outrage with plans to build a mega-church in Manly for up to 1280 people and a third church in Gympie.

The Manly West church has drawn hundreds of objections and would be the largest Brethren "meeting room" in Queensland, on par with those in Melbourne and Adelaide.

In both cases, the churches are proposed in residential streets not zoned for the purpose.

They sit between houses, which residents say will affect their amenity and property values and increase traffic.

Residents who had no problem with Brethren families moving in say the huge church will change the face of the neighbourhood.

Start of sidebar. Skip to end of sidebar.

End of sidebar. Return to start of sidebar.

"It's an invasion of Manly West," complained 38-year-old Vanita Hamanne.

Retiree Brian Malcolm said there would be no benefit to the community of having such a big, off-bounds facility on their doorstep.

"It's a prison for them to come and go as they please but there's no benefit to the residents," Mr Malcolm said.

Laurie Whitehead added: "They don't contribute a lot to the community."

Gympie people also don't understand why a "cult" church should be allowed in their residential neighbourhood.

In recent years, Gympie residents have noticed a swelling in Brethren numbers to 100 as part of their migration out of Brisbane, where they have traditionally lived around Bulimba, near a 30-year-old church being replaced by the Manly West one.

In a written statement, Brisbane Brethren member Steve Kirkpatrick said Manly West was a "better location" for its members and rejected the notion they were invading.

"Brethren do not 'invade' communities. Members may choose to live in localities for similar reasons other Australians do, including amenity, geography, business opportunities, closeness to family and friends, access to schools."

Mr Kirkpatrick said the Brethren interacted with the community through business.

"While it is true we are a close-knit community, we are on friendly terms with most neighbours where we live," the statement said.

"Our members own businesses around Australia that employ thousands of non-Brethren, whom would vouch for our reputation as good employers.

"Most of those businesses have many non-Brethren customers and suppliers, who again would vouch for our honesty and integrity.

"Our schools employ only non-Brethren teachers."

The Exclusive Brethren was labelled a cult in 2007 by former prime minister Kevin Rudd, who said they split up families and denied education opportunities to children.

The Brethren's website explains that the fellowship believes in separating itself from the "sins" of the world.

They do not socialise with non-Brethren and their non-descript church buildings - called meeting rooms - are protected behind barbed-wire fences or impenetrable gates.

At their daily hours-long scripture meetings at a small church on Gympie's rural southside, the gates are padlocked when the congregation is safely inside, and a security guard sometimes posted.

In Gympie, the Brethren now own 10 businesses and employ 80 people, including 50 non-church members.

Gympie people who work for Brethren families have described them as excellent employers. Their non-Brethren neighbours also had no major grievances - until the church development application was lodged with the Gympie Regional Council.

That church would be small and would host almost daily services nestled among a sub-division of Brethren and non-Brethren homes.

Paul Gerrard, who is leading fierce opposition to the church, says dealing with the sect had become difficult.

Mr Gerrard has accused the Brethren of employing "stand-over" tactics to persuade locals to sell their houses - a claim rejected by the Brethren.

To see more documents/articles regarding this group/organization/subject click here.