Monday, August 22, 2005

Behind Closed Doors

Ngaire Thomas

[As a member of the Exclusive Brethren] if I didn’t marry before I turned eighteen, I would need to apply for exemption from joining a trade union. At the end of the 1930s, the Exclusive Brethren had taken the stand that belonging to a union was wrong. In those days trade union membership was compulsory in New Zealand. The Exclusives appealed to the government of the day against becoming union members on the grounds that they were conscientious objectors. I would be drilled on the correct answers to give to the inevitable questions posed by the Tribunal committee. What church do you go to? Are they a sect? Are you appealing because of your own conscience or because you belong to the Exclusive Brethren?

I had been drilled in the correct answers: ‘No, I do not belong to a sect; I am a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ, and in the absolute authority of God’s inspired Word, the Holy Bible.’ I would quote 2 Corinthians 6:15 about being unequally yoked with unbelievers. I would point out that submission to trade union influence accepts interference in the employer (master) and employee (servant) relationship, which is divinely ordained.

I didn’t like these answers that I was expected to learn off pat. I looked up the dictionary meaning of ‘sect’: ‘Confined or devoted to a religious denomination, adherents of a principle or school of thought.’ How could I truthfully declare that the Exclusive Brethren were not a sect? I sidestepped the issue by just not turning up for my union appeal. I had a year to wait before the next appeal, maybe I could think up an excuse, maybe I would be married by then, and would no longer be allowed to go out to work.

It was part of the Exclusive Brethren strategy that our lives should be so entwined with the fellowship that it would be very difficult to separate from it. This was seen to be part of God’s way of salvation. We were told it was His ‘provision’ for us. I felt like I was being swept along in a strong current, unable to stand alone but in reality seeing nothing stable to grab hold of to avoid being swamped or drowned.

Then I met Denis at some Fellowship Meetings, one Saturday near the end of 1961. Denis’s story is an almost lyrical account of Brethrenism at its best. I have included it here as a contrast to my own and to show that not all Exclusive Brethren families are the same.

From chapter 12 of Behind Closed Doors – a startling story of Exclusive Brethren life, published by Random House 2004
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