The Plymouth Brethren discourage interaction between their followers and outsiders, and the church encompasses all aspects of social and professional life for its members. Critics say it has gone from being a Christian sect to full-blown cult.
Is it a cult?
Lorne Dawson, a sociologist at University of Waterloo who has studied cults, said the Brethren display many of the same features as other extremist religions, including being "infused with the apocalyptic element," such as the rapture.
But he wouldn’t go as far as to call the Brethren a cult. "’Cult’ is usually a word just to beat people over the head with. There’s absolutely no positive connotation to the word. It’s just a nasty label," he said. Neither is there universal agreement on a definition for cult.
He prefers to say the Plymouth Brethren are "a sectarian group that is displaying cult-like features."
"They are acting more extreme in their behaviour in terms of control over membership, in separating from the world, and in a focus on a special leader. These are characteristic themes in a cult," he said.
People in Manitoba who know about the Brethren reflexively compare them to Hutterites, Old Order Mennonites and Amish.
It’s certainly not a fair comparison with Hutterites. Hutterites have something similar to the "shutting up" phase when a member has done something wrong, called an ausschluss for grave sins, and unfrieden for lesser sins. But it’s extremely rare for a Hutterite to be kicked out.
There are ex-Hutterites, but they left on their own accord. As devastating as that is to the immediate family and colony, ex-Hutterites still return to visit their home colonies. Ex-members will even stay for several days on a colony, although that can vary between colonies, said Mark Waldner, a teacher at Decker Hutterite Colony in western Manitoba.
Hutterites also believe in separation — but separation from the sinful elements of the outside world, said Waldner, not a total separation like the Brethren. And while Hutterites do have a leader, called the Elder, he’s currently a 93-year-old man who is losing his eyesight and lives in a common home like other Hutterites, not in a mansion with his own private jet.
While researching the website of the International Cultic Studies Association, I came across a paper presented by a professor Peter Caws. I was struck by this quote: "If the Taylorite Exclusive Brethren (another name for the Plymouth Brethren) were just a harmless evangelical sect, seeking to be faithful to the gospel, they would deserve our respect and might be left to work out their own salvation. But this description will not fit."
Did he mean the Brethren are harmful? I asked Caws, professor of philosophy at George Washington University in Washington, D.C., and a former Plymouth Brethren member from England.
Yes, he said. Caws maintains the PBCC victimizes the people who are born into it.
"The harm comes to their own members. They’re not a threat in the world with what, 46,000 members," he said in a telephone interview.
"The harm has been extreme. Many, many families broken up. A good many people killed themselves. The minute they deviate from their doctrine, they’re out the window... They’re out on their ear and they’re in terrible shape."
Caws left England to study in the United States and never saw his parents again. He’s 82 now, so that was obviously a long time ago. When he grew up, the Plymouth Brethren was a fairly normal evangelical fundamentalist Christian church. But Caws, like others, blames Taylor Jr. for hijacking the church and turning it into an extremist group.
The Brethren church was fine so long as benign leaders ran it, but once a malevolent personality like Taylor Jr. got in, the group was defenceless, Caws said. There was nothing in its structure to counteract him.
Caws described Taylor Jr. as having an "authoritarian personality who had to have someone obey him and obey blindly. Anyone who deviated a little bit got disciplined.
"No one was in a position to challenge the authority and the only way was to get out, but that meant you lost your family and job."
Little has changed under successors John Hales, followed by his son Bruce — both business people who "saw opportunities," in Caws’ words.
Updated on Saturday, May 10, 2014 at 8:57 PM CDT: Fixes typo.
May 12, 2014 at 11:34 PM: Correction: Superb Sprinkler Service is no longer owned by a member of the Plymouth Brethren.
August 18, 2014 at 3:47 PM: Note added.
Have you found an error, or know of something we’ve missed in one of our stories? Please use the form below and let us know.
Having problems with the form?Contact Us Directly
Firefighters accused of breaching finance laws in Judy W-L endorsement
Judge reserves verdict in trial over Fort Richmond teen's death
City stacked with police officers
Canada's UN announcement is Obama's, too
Man charged in Norway House death
University student gets prison time for fatal drunk-driving crash
Trial for 2004 killing of Boulanger delayed a year
Woman sent to jail for drunk-driving accident that injured ex-boyfriend
Buff, O'Dell absent from Jets practice
Man caught with cocaine stash after running stop sign
QB Willy throws reps at Bomber practice today
Mentally ill woman given conditional discharge for public mischief
Marty Green files appeal of trespassing conviction
Sanders wants city decisions to consider environmental consequences
WHO: 21,000 Ebola cases by November if no changes
Netflix battles with CRTC over disclosure
Police nab suspected vehicle thieves
Two people rescued, pet dies in Furby Street fire
Ndinawe youth centre to be get expanded hours
Canada backs U.S. attacks on ISIL in Syria
Alouettes to retire Calvillo's No. 13 jersey
Treaty material not mandatory, but can be integrated across K-12 curriculum: minister
Sadies at WECC Nov. 1
Inn at the Forks to operate CMHR's restaurant
Theory of a Deadman at the Burt Nov. 20
Winnipeggers still enjoying warm weather
Retail sales slower in July for province
Man recovering from stab wounds
TV appearance big deal for women with Winnipeg ties
Tagaq wins Polaris, hurls expletive at PETA
Assad backs all efforts to fight terrorism
New Brunswick Tory leader concedes defeat
Phones ring up record sales
Incoming U of W president promises new, collaborative approach
Predictably chaotic: Jets' win much more Dali than Picasso
FIFA to adopt 3-minute break for concussion
Christine Fellows' latest work evolved from album to multimedia art project
Union fans flame of Judy W-L's bid
French court extends adoption rights to lesbians