READER REPORT:

'I survived the Exclusive Brethren'

JANET PROST
Last updated 17:39 31/08/2016
Brethren
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"I was one of the lucky ones as I was not destroyed by the Exclusive Brethren. Not only did I survive, but I've also kept my faith."

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I was one of the lucky ones as I was not destroyed.

My early childhood in the Exclusive Brethren, tucked in a corner of Ontario, Canada, was almost ideal as it was loving Christians worshipping together in the way they believed.

There were a lot of edicts - no Christmas, Halloween, Easter, television, and most girls were forbidden to wear pants - but my parents didn't bother to follow those rules.

But even in those early days I was aware of other assemblies in our sect that weren't ideal as they had bullies in charge and were slowly and surely destroying their members with their harsh and arbitrary rules.

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* Exclusive Brethren follow the church, not God
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My childhood ended when the bullies came. It was no longer about worship, rather it was about who you were, how much Darby Bible you had read, and how well you followed the rules.

My father was first excommunicated when I was 10. We went from being the favourite family in our assembly to the pariahs; we were completely shunned and no one came to see us. My mother stopped eating and went into a deep depression. She has never been the same person again.

After three years we went back because my father insisted it was the "right place" to be. This time we were in one of those harsh assemblies where the bullies were in charge. They made it clear they didn't agree with my father having been "restored" to fellowship.

Our family was treated like the bottom rung of the ladder; when my father spoke in the meeting (church), others would refuse to contribute and arguments would break out over seemingly innocuous comments. They would stand up and reach over my father to shake hands as though we weren't there.

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My father was excommunicated again when I was 20. No one would support him. It was an "assembly decision". Once again, we were shunned. My parents were forbidden to even attend meetings. They sat at home for 14 years.

No one believed how bad things were in our assembly, even though everyone avoided it like the plague.

And then the first division happened. The people I loved in the brethren, who had previously loved each other, turned into a pack of snarling wolves. It was a horror show with insults and degradation flying on both sides.

Assembly meetings were people glaring at each other across the room and screaming at each other afterward. Families stopped speaking to one another; friends became foes forever. The two boys in my assembly with whom I'd been closest with, who were like my brothers, stopped talking to me. Most of my other friends went with the other side and I never saw them again.

The division accelerated the horror and the legalism and those who were left were determined to crack down on the masses. The slightest infractions were severely punished. Sexual abuse, suicides and nervous breakdowns increased dramatically. The brethren looked the other way as no one wanted another division. The fighting continued. I sat in meeting some days feeling as though I would have to duck under my chair to dodge flying hand grenades.

My brother, who wanted to be a missionary, was branded guilty by association with our father, and his bright, spirited personality slowly began to deteriorate as the brethren abused him at every turn. Every assembly he tried refused to restore him to fellowship as it would put them "out of harmony" with our home assembly.

The brethren had my father banned from all the nearby assemblies as well as all the conferences. When he once showed up at a weeknight meeting they promptly cancelled it and spent the hour hurling insults instead.

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* Sect's secretive leader tells followers to drink rat poison
* Exclusive Brethren told to 'pray for the IRD' after favourable settlement

I fled Canada, ending up in an assembly in the United States, but the vendetta against our family followed me there. My father, and then my brother, were banned from that assembly. By the time he was 25 my brother had become a drug abuser. I was on antidepressants and in therapy, my work suffered, and some days I could barely get out of bed.

The second division came 12 years after the first. This time my parents were restored with a less legal side, but within a few years those brethren had turned on them too. I was 37 years old and that was when I finally got the courage to leave the Exclusive Brethren.

My parents are in another "open" brethren group. It's all they know. My mother still struggles with depression and anxiety, can't sleep, and barely eats most days. My brother, a full-blown drug addict, has given up. The brethren have snuffed out their lives.

I was lucky. I have not only survived, but I've also kept my faith. I look back at the Exclusive Brethren with sadness as they continue to maintain they are "the only place" and deny what has happened.


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