Jan 12, 2020

Man's escape from 'cult' that stopped members from keeping pets or speaking to family

The Wavertree man rarely saw his mum again but the church firmly denies it is a cult

Max Clements
Liverpool Echo
January 11, 2020

A man who claims he 'escaped a cult' practising in Liverpool revealed the strict control it exercised over his daily life, and how it has left him unable to visit his family.

John Spinks, 53, originally from Wavertree, was born into the Exclusive Brethren, an evangelical Christian sect, spending 22 years of his life in the group.

John claims that while he was a member he followed rules that affected every aspect of his life including where he lived, the type of job he could have, and his choice of partner.

He alleges that:

  • After leaving the sect, which in 1988 had 151 members in Liverpool, he was cut off from his family for 15 years.
  • TV, sporting events, going to the cinema and even pets were ruled "distractions from God" with claims some members put their dogs down thanks to an edict from the church.
  • Church leaders said he was only able to attend his mum's funeral if he abided by strict rules - including sitting away from everyone else.
The Plymouth Brethren Christian Church, as the group is now known, reject all claims they are a cult and have described themselves as a "mainstream Christian Church" whose members "extensively engage with the wider community on a daily basis".

But speaking about his experience, John revealed that , under the group's rules, television was banned and termed the 'pipeline of filth' and other forms of 'worldly entertainment' such as watching sporting events, going to the cinema, or the theatre were all off limits.

In one instance, John claims families within the group put their dogs down after the Man of God, the Exclusive Brethren's most senior religious figure across the world, ruled that pets were 'a distraction from God' in 1964.

John says he had to attend daily religious meetings, including five on Sunday with the first at 6am, and was banned from any form of 'worldly entertainment.'

In the meetings, he claims that only men were allowed to speak and that women were seated at the back and had to wear a form of headscarf.

Speaking to the ECHO, John lifted the lid on life inside the mysterious Exclusive Brethren and how it affected his life.

He said:"I spent the first 22 years of my life in the Exclusive Brethren. An evangelical Christian cult.

"My life was coercively controlled by the group. I was born into the group and people took it upon themselves to decide the laws that we were all forced to live under.

"We were under tight control with rules and regulations. They told us what to believe and controlled our lives."
'Separation from evil'

The Exclusive Brethren, now known as the Plymouth Brethren Christian Church, believes in the Doctrine of Separation, meaning members try to keep themselves as far as possible from other people due to the belief that the world is a place of wickedness.

John claims there were also also several notable rule changes that forced him and his family to move house twice and his dad to leave his job after new rulings by the Man of God.

He said: "One day the Man of God ruled that we were not allowed to live in houses with adjoining walls or shared drains because that was not considered separate from evil. So we had to move house from Wavertree to Mossley Hill into an end terrace house.

"Around a year later the Man of God decided that end terraces were not separate enough and that only detached houses were suitable. So we had to move house again."
Cut off from his family

The sect, which John terms a 'cult', imposed strict rules upon families. When John left, aged 22 in 1988 his family remained in the sect. He says that under the group's rules they were prevented from seeing their son.

John would not see his family again for 15 years.

He explained that in 2002, he received a phone call from his father out of the blue claiming that the Exclusive Brethren had changed its rules allowing John to see his family.

John added: "I was so shocked and asked why? My dad said it was because the Man of God in Australia said that they had got the rule wrong and misunderstood his father, the previous man of God, and that it was ok to see me."

For the next sixth months, John was allowed to visit his parents' house once a month for a short period of time.

He said: "I went round once a month to see my mum and dad and I took my daughter with me, who was three at the time, and had never met her grandparents."

However, he claims it soon emerged that the rules had not changed and he believes the visits were actually an attempt to bring him back into the group.
Who are the Exclusive Brethren?

The Exclusive Brethren is an evangelical Christian movement which is part of a wider movement known as the Plymouth Brethren.

The sect has members in countries across the world but the largest fellowships are found in the UK, New Zealand, Australia, and North America.

The Exclusive Brethren was founded in 1848 by John Nelson Darby, an anglo-Irish Bible teacher.

One of the group's fundamental beliefs is the 'Doctrine of Separation' which is based on their interpretation of 2 Corinthians 6 and 2 Timothy 2, in the Bible. This belief means they maintain a separation from non believers in many aspects of life.

In 2012, the Exclusive Brethren became known as the Plymouth Brethren Christian Church.

Today, the Plymouth Brethren Christian Church is thought to have around 45,000 members worldwide and 12,000 members in the UK.

He did not hear from his parents again until 2015, when he received news that his mother had been taken ill.

John says he was only allowed to visit his ill mother because she had been admitted to a care home, and the separation rules did not apply.

He also spoke of the "difficult decision" not to attend his mother's funeral because of the stipulations he says he was asked to follow if he wanted to attend.

He said: "I was told I could only come to the funeral if I came in through a side entrance and sat at the back away from everyone else.

"Then at the cemetery I would have to stand separately. I said to myself that I would not put my daughter through this and that this was wrong."

John claims that family separation is an extremely common issue within members of religious sects.

He said: "When I left in 1988, I wrote down every single person I can remember from Liverpool which was about 151 members. Out of those 151 members, I counted that 73% of them were cut off from one or more family member."

Exclusive Brethren/Plymouth Brethren Christian Church Collection


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