MY ESCAPE FROM THE EXCLUSIVE BRETHREN – By: R.A.C.
My parents were brought up in the Exclusive Brethren. From an early age, I remember being taken to “meetings” every Sunday, the “Breaking of Bread” in the morning (theExclusives’ communion), the “Reading” (the Exclusives’ term for a Bible Study) in the
afternoon, and the “Gospel” in the evening. We had to attend “Fellowship Meetings” when large numbers were present and a “Ministering Brother” led the meetings. I was soon aware that “Exclusives” did not have radios or televisions, did not go to the “pictures”, night clubs, dances or pubs, did not vote, etc.. When I started school it soon became aparent to both teachers and fellow pupils, that I was “different from the rest”. As a consequence I was bullied during my schooling years from 1951 to 1962. Our house had bricks thrown through the windows. If a crime occurred in the town, our names would be given to Police, even though we were not involved. My mother would be assaulted in the street.
1955 was the year my father was “Withdrawn From” by the “Brethren”. This expression “Withdrawn from” can be better explained as “Excommunication”. If a “Brethren” member has sinned (for example): by eating with a close relative who is not a sect member, he or she can be “shut up”. This could be otherwise known as a form of house arrest. The erring member is not allowed to attend meetings, is cut off from the family, and is visited regularly by the Brethren leadership. The erring member is spoken to in a severe manner, which really, is coercion. If the erring member acknowledges his or her ‘guilt’, they can be restored to normal contact with their family and attend meetings again. .However, if the erring member flatly refuses to repent, he or she will be “withdrawn from”, that is: shunned. Following some violet episodes my father left the marital home in June 1956. Even today in 2011, the divorce rate in the “Brethren” is virtually non-existent, apparently. After my father had moved out in 1956, my mother was adamant that she would not have him back. It would only be a matter of time before the “Brethren” would raise the issue of my mother being married to a non-member.
1958 was a significant year in the “Exclusives”. James Taylor Jnr, or “Big Jim” as he was commonly known, started to assert his authority. Big Jim was the undisputed sect leader, following the death of his father, James Taylor Snr.. I can remember when the “Eating Question” reared its head; when the edict was issued that the “Brethren” could no longer eat with non-members of the sect. This was only the beginning as subsequent events would confirm. 1961 was the year when my mother was granted a divorce from my father. The “Brethren” were not happy about this but were resigned to reluctantly accepting the situation. This must surely have been one of the first occasions in the UK where this occurred. I finished my schooling in July 1962, and commenced my first job as an apprentice with a machine tools company. I was the only “Brethren” member there. I did not find this very easy, trying to form normal, healthy social relationships with them. I was the subject of ridicule at times.
It was the last day at work before the Christmas holiday. Everyone was in a jolly mood and alcohol was flowing freely. I was offered a drink and I said yes. The problem was: I kept saying yes all afternoon. , I managed to cycle home and fell onto the settee. Mother
said, “What’s the matter?” I said, “I don’t feel well”. Mother fetched a neighbour. The neighbour said, “I know what it is, he’s drunk”. The “Brethren” never found out about this. I don’t know what they would have said or done they had. This incident was the precursor to an event which occurred in the spring of 1966. I will say more about that later.
In the spring of 1963, I attended a big “Brethren” meeting at Alexandra Palace in London. About 7,000 “Brethren” members were there. It was the first and only time I heard the leader, James Taylor Jnr. (‘Big Jim’) speak. During his talk, he frequently disappeared under the lectern to have a drink. I have it on good authority that he had a fondness for whisky. If this was the case, considering the number of times he “vanished” behind the
lectern, he must surely have succeeded in consuming the entire bottle! During 1963 and into the first half of 1964, I began to have my “doubts” about the “Brethren”. I was asking myself the question: Is the imposition of a strict code on separation really God’s way? I
did not believe it was. I challenged them on the following verse: “If the unbeliever invites you and ye are minded to go, all that is set before you eat; making no enquiry for conscience sake”. Their reply was: “If you had a conscience, you wouldn’t go”. I was
considering my “exit strategy”. How could I extricate myself from this bondage and experience freedom? Easier said than done, I feel. In the “Brethren”, you are not allowed to have a mind of your own; you are forced to think and act the “Brethren” way. The
“Brethren way” is not God’s way, but man’s way (dictated by the sect leader). You had no other choice, so to speak. My most harrowing experiences regarding the “Brethren” occurred from 1964 to 1965, as the following account will show. These events have left an indelible mark on me. Here goes.
October 1964 to July 1965
It was an October Saturday morning. I purchased a Raleigh Runabout moped. I used it the next morning to go to the “Breaking of Bread” meeting (communion). After the meeting, I was targeted by the “Brethren” and was lectured in no uncertain terms that I
should not have bought it, and should have put the money in the Sunday collection instead. On this particular Sunday my mother and brother had stayed at home. I made my way home after the meeting. Mother said, “What’s the matter”? I told her what happened. I then took the bold step and said I would never go to the “Brethren” meetings again. She said, “You will have to”. I replied: “I will never meet with that lot again”. I then inwardly trembled, fearing the consequences. I soon found out. In my opinion, the cruellest “Brethren doctrine” is the doctrine of “Separation”. I cannot find any scriptural basis for the harsh way they enforced this. I still have family members who are still “in”.
Although I elected to leave the “Brethren” of my own accord, I knew the “Brethren” would insist on having the last word and “withdraw from” me. Needless to say, the “Brethren” soon visited me to force me to repent! It’s laughable, I had done nothing wrong! At every visit, the “Brethren” piled on the pressure to try and break my will. If they thought they could achieve this, they were sadly mistaken! The stress I was put under by the “Brethren” was for the specific purpose of getting me to “repent”. The visits were relentless. I still refused to crack. Eventually, I was advised that a “Meeting of Assembly Character” would be held in a nearby town, a meeting they said I must attend. This meeting would be the final opportunity for me to repent and be disciplined. My failure to repent would be followed by the comment; “I am afraid we can no longer walk with our brother.” In other words, I would be disfellowshipped. The evening of the meeting arrived. The “Brethren” came to collect my mother and brother, and asked me to go as well. Naturally, I refused. Two and a half hours later, the “Brethren” returned to our home and carried mother into the house. She had collapsed at the meeting. One of the “Brethren” said to me: “Make your mother a cup of tea”. I replied by saying: “You make it. You got her into this situation; you get her out of it yourself”.
I knew that the next phase of the process would soon start. For a while after I was “withdrawn from”, I still ate at the same table as my mother and brother. I knew this would not last for very long. Then it happened. I was forced to eat in a separate room. How
would you feel if you came downstairs for breakfast, in the family home and had to go into a different room, close the door, and wait for a knock on the door to indicate that your breakfast was on a tray outside? I was an outcast. This was only the start. There was
much more to come.
One morning, the “Brethren” came to the house and said to Mother: “We have come to take your dog to the vets and have it put down”. We had been told that we could no longer have a dog because it was an unclean animal. My Mother replied by saying: “You will do no such thing”. My heart leapt with sheer joy when I heard this! I thought: “Is mother, at last, prepared to stand up to these common bullies?” A short while afterwards, I was taken seriously ill. The past few months had taken its toll on my health. Mother, as any decent mother would, looked after me. The “Brethren” got to know about this, came round to the house and said: “Turn your son out of the house or get out yourself”. Mother’s reply was swift. “I am not happy with the situation as is. However, what neither you nor I can change is the fact that he is still my son, and I am still his mother”. If you think I am going to abandon my son when he desperately needs support, think again”. This is the only time when I was glad to have been taken ill! The timing could not have been better! Mother and brother still attended the “meetings”. I thought: how much longer will this go on?
One evening, the crunch came. I had taken enough and could take no more. I said to my mother: “You have one week to make up your mind as to who you want, the “Brethren” or me. If you decide to stay with “that lot”, then I will be out of here, and you will never hear of or see me again, and you can forget that you ever had a son”. Mother burst into tears.This was a defining moment. Mother chose me.
Mother knew she would receive visits from the “Brethren”. Sensibly, she decided to not open the door when they did. Eventually, a note was pushed through the door, advising my mother and brother of the day and time when the “Meeting of Assembly Character”
would be held. My mother and brother did not attend. A few days later, we were greatly relieved when a note was pushed through our door to confirm that my mother and brother had been “withdrawn from”.
I have always believed that our lives are divided into chapters. Another chapter in my life had been completed. The question hung over me: “What happens now?”
I am sure that every ex “Brethren” member would agree with me when I say that to lead a normal life outside the “Brethren” is far from easy. For the first time in my life, I was aware I now had the freedom of choice, instead of my mind being made up for me. To have a mind of my own was a very strange feeling. Would I make out ok? The test was yet to come.
Firstly, I purchased a small radio; then learned to drive, passing my driving test on the second attempt in February 1966. The next phase of my life was about to begin. Shortly after passing my test, I was approached by one of my work colleagues, a guy named
Derek, who was learning to drive and wanted someone to sit with him. I was happy to oblige, and off we went. Derek said that he fancied a drink, so we stopped at a pub to have one. I can well recall the pleasurable feeling as I downed my first “pint”.
This was the first alcoholic drink I had consumed since my drunken exploits back in December 1962. Nothing could have prepared me on that day for the awful consequences that would result from taking this one solitary drink. I soon started to drink heavily, smoke
heavily, and engaged in multiple sexual relationships. Amazingly, I avoided the drugs scene. I was looking for some answers to life, which would take me two more years. In seeking to live a life after the “Brethren” I was prepared to try anything. I did not give a
damn what it was. I was asking an all important question: “Is there a God?” If so, where is He now? My level of drinking increased, and was beginning to get out of control. I even hallucinated. The one image I saw, occurred in a darkened room. A bright light appeared through the wall, followed by a solid oak coffin, brightly lit. It travelled across the room and disappeared through the opposite wall. What was happening to me? I could not see any future for my life. What could I do?
1967 was a decisive year. I was 21 in the May, the same month that I was asked by a dear Christian friend if I would like to go and hear Billy Graham, the well-known evangelist. Billy was holding a rally at Earl’s Court during that month. As I listened to what Billy said, he seemed to be saying something that made a lot of sense. Looking back, I now know that the “seed” was sown that night. It was only a matter of time before Jesus found me and I found Him and accepted Him into my heart and life. “O wretched man that I am who shall deliver me from this body of death?” Romans 7 v 24-25. I now know, there is only one person who can do this.
1968 was my year of decision, in which I accepted Christ as my Saviour and Lord. I was drinking less, with occasional heavy bouts. In September that year, I came to faith in Christ. This was the beginning of a new life. Simultaneously, I needed to shake off the old
Turn your eyes upon Jesus.
Look full in His wonderful face.
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim,
In the light of His glory and grace.
The recovery process had begun. However, I still carried on with much of what I did before. However, I was drinking and smoking less, although multiple sexual relationships continued.
In March 1969, I was faced with the choice of redundancy or transfer within the same group of companies. I moved with the company to a new area and started attending a Christian Fellowship. I purchased a house in July the same year. Mother moved to live with me. Moving to a new area enabled me to leave the old life behind and to adopt the moral behaviour that is compatible with a life in Christ. In 1971, I was baptised in the church I still attend. It was also the year in which I was made redundant. I then served as
In March 1972, my mother was taken to be with Christ. I was by her hospital bedside when it happened. I have never forgotten that moment. The following month, my brother was married. He now has a grown up son and daughter. In September 1973, I ceased
drinking alcohol altogether, and have not touched a drop since. I gave up smoking soon afterwards. On 19th September 1992, I married a lovely Christian lady. We are still happily married. In 1993, I was medically retired from the Fire Service, and took up a
position with the City Council and resigned that position in 1996 to become a Security Officer. I retired in December last year.
My father died in January 1996. During his lifetime, I made numerous efforts regarding reconciliation, but this proved futile. It took me 25 years to forgive him.
As I look back over my life, I have to say this: “To form normal, healthy, and meaningful social contacts outside of the “Brethren” was far from easy”. I praise God I was eventually able to adjust. God will not allow us to be tempted beyond that which we are able to bear, but, with the temptation, he will provide the way of escape. In my need Jesus put his strong arms around me.
I know who holds the future,
And He’ll guide me with His hand.
With God, things don’t just happen.
Everything by Him is planned.
So, as I face tomorrow
With its problems large and small,
I’ll trust the God of miracles,
Give to Him my all.
Have you given Him your all?