Family care 'tied to sect gag order'

The Age, Australia/September 20, 2008

The Exclusive Brethren sect has attempted to prevent a sick 85-year-old former member from revealing her terrible life story by saying that if she remained silent she could be reunited before she dies with the children she was separated from 28 years ago.

Alison Alderton's family was torn apart at the order of the sect's world leader in 1980, and she has barely had contact with her children, who are "in fellowship", since.

Inside the sect, kept apart from Mrs Alderton by the Brethren's founding doctrine of "separation," are three daughters and a son, 18 grandchildren and a number of great-grandchildren she does not know and cannot count.

The Exclusive Brethren teaches its members that they have a privileged place in God's eyes, and must keep spiritually separate from the world, to avoid being "defiled" by it.

But on May 26 this year, as Mrs Alderton lay sick in hospital with dizzy spells and severe vomiting, her daughter Jeanette Sivewright, and son-in-law Roger, paid her an unannounced visit, having been notified of her emergency admission by the retirement village where she lives.

"They came, maybe 8.30pm sat at the end of my bed, very friendly and nice, talked warmly and it was like the good old days," Mrs Alderton said.

"They asked me to come and live with them and they would love me and look after me, and I'd probably be restored to my privileges (within the Exclusive Brethren) which was something I could not consider."

They rang a few days later and, "they told me that they were prepared to look after me if I would sign a statement that I would never again say anything against the Brethren." She refused: "He that practises the truth comes to the light."

"I'd love for them to drop in and be visiting me and bringing their children to meet me. And it's against ties that God has made that the Brethren cut us off from each other. It's just so wicked," she said.

Mrs Alderton told an abbreviated version of her story in The Age in 2006, and a fuller version in today's The Age Good Weekend magazine, angering the Exclusive Brethren hierarchy.

Mrs Alderton saw her daughter's proposal as the extension of a similar implied threat from another daughter, Grace, who wrote in February that any public comments "may affect my being able to care for you when you need it".

A senior Sydney-based Brethren man, Mrs Alderton's brother, David Stewart, told The Age her family simply "extended the hand of reconciliation".

"Any successful reconciliation involves compromise. To that end, Alison's family asked her to stop publicly criticising their church."

He also denied the Brethren break up families: "Many family members who leave the church maintain regular and warm relations with those still in the church" - a claim rejected by Mrs Alderton and other former members.

Another senior church member, Daniel Hales, said the events in the Good Weekend article "occurred nearly 30 years ago and do not reflect the ethos or activities of the church today".

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