Unholy Devotion (transcript)

DANIEL STREET: Protesters on a mission outside a suburban Sydney school. Tempers have reached boiling point.

RUSSELL BAILEY, REDEEMER BAPTIST CHURCH ELDER: Get off the property. I’ll ask you to leave, thank you.

PROTESTER: I’m not on the property.

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Unholy Devotion (Background to this story)

DANIEL STREET: But across town, a heartfelt reunion of people on the same mission. These people are former members of the Redeemer Baptist Church and school in Parramatta. It’s the first time they’ve come together, not only to renew old friendships, but to show a united front of concern for their loved ones who remain inside the Redeemer community. Many have painful stories to tell of Redeemer Baptist and its effects on their lives and families. They’re here to support the former church members who’ve chosen to speak out on our program today.

ANDREW FROST, FORMER COMMUNITY MEMBER: You don’t wake up one day and say, “I think I’ll join a cult”, but my parents were sucked into joining a cult and, you know, my life was living hell in there.

DEAN GREGORY, FORMER COMMUNITY MEMBER: It’s got a great facade, Redeemer. On the surface, for a conservative Christian family, Redeemer is like utopia, but behind the scenes there’s all this control and destroyed lives.

DANIEL STREET: The Redeemer Baptist story began back in 1974 when around 30 families broke away from the Castle Hill Baptist Church here in Sydney’s west, reaching out to local bikie groups, street kids and others in need, offering live-in support and care. But the story you’ll hear today is how that break-away church turned abusive, leaving many of its members emotionally, spiritually, and in some cases, financially destroyed. Redeemer Baptist started with members actively living out God’s word through the discipleship of the church, but it soon developed into them submitting to a leader who would wield power and control with devastating consequences. It became an unholy devotion.

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ALAN NUTT, FORMER CHURCH ELDER: You’ve got to understand there’s a distinction between what you say and what you practise. As far as what they preach is concerned, they would probably still be considered mainstream, by and large. But in terms of practice, I guess it would have been three, four years down the track when we began to sense that there were changes taking place that certainly made us uneasy.

DANIEL STREET: What sort of changes?

ALAN NUTT: In terms of the degree of control that were being called for. There began to be a pressure that if you weren’t committed, then you didn’t rate.

DANIEL STREET: And who was exerting this pressure?

ALAN NUTT: It began from the eldership and particularly from Noel Cannon.

DANIEL STREET: Alan Nutt was himself once an elder of Redeemer. He and his wife Elaine left eight years ago because of their concerns about the control exerted by the self-appointed leader of Redeemer Baptist, Pastor Noel Cannon.

ALAN NUTT: I think the control has resulted over the years in very serious damage to many, many lives, both young people and old people.

DANIEL STREET: What sort of damage?

ALAN NUTT: You see, he intrudes into every facet of life — career, family life, marriage, so they’re told when they can go on holidays, where they can go on holidays, who they go on holidays with, what careers the young people take on, whether they can go to university or not go to university, who they will marry, and even…

DANIEL STREET: Arranged marriages?

ALAN NUTT: Arranged marriages. There’s no question that the marriages are arranged.

DANIEL STREET: And this is Pastor Noel Cannon. Former church members say Cannon is much more than a shepherd to his worshipping flock.

DEAN GREGORY: I think Noel saw himself as God, and that was the big issue. Noel is not God. He’s accountable to no-one.

DANIEL STREET: Dean Gregory, now a civil engineer, says he was subject to Noel Cannon’s unrelenting restrictions. DEAN GREGORY: I got to a point in my life where I knew that all my major life decisions were being made for me — who you’re going to marry, what job you’re going to do, what your role and position in the church is going to be.

DANIEL STREET: And who was making these decisions?

DEAN GREGORY: Noel Cannon was making these decisions.

SAM GIBSON, FORMER COMMUNITY MEMBER: It’s basically a Waco without the weapons. But the weapons they have, or the weapon Noel Cannon has, is he uses his mind, his position of authority, and his power to basically make you fall in line.

DANIEL STREET: Sam Gibson didn’t join Redeemer, he was born into it. Even though nine years have passed since leaving, now plasterer and volunteer fireman, he still lives with the pain of his oppression.

SAM GIBSON: I put it down to it being so like being basically in prison, where all your freedoms are… You’re always watched, you’re always listened in to.

DANIEL STREET: What was the impact of that control, that manipulation you’re talking about?

SAM GIBSON: The emotional abuse, psychological abuse, the spiritual abuse, not being able to walk into a church nowadays.

DANIEL STREET: Andrew Frost is out of Redeemer, leaving 7 years ago at age 23. But Andrew, who is now a commercial interiors designer, still remembers moving into the commune as a teenager and immediately feeling its full force.

ANDREW FROST: You’re living in a house with 30 people, not in your family house. From 0 to 16 you’ve lived in a house with your family and all of a sudden you’ve been taken out of that environment and you’ve been put into a commune.

DANIEL STREET: Did you think there was anything odd with that?

ANDREW FROST: Yeah, absolutely. I hated living there. I hated every moment.

DANIEL STREET: Canberra schoolteacher Jenny Neish says she’s a survivor of Redeemer. She left with her husband in April last year.

JENNY NEISH, FORMER REDEEMER TEACHER: You can’t refuse advice — it then becomes a command and I think that’s where they’ve gone wrong. Instead of just teaching what they believe is right and urging you to do what is right, they actually enforce that you do what they believe is right.

DANIEL STREET: How do they enforce that?

JENNY NEISH: If you don’t do it, you know, you would be in trouble and that would mean that either someone would come and speak to you or you would be publicly made to stand up in a meeting and dressed down about it.

DANIEL STREET: So you were publicly shamed?

JENNY NEISH: Yeah, often.

DANIEL STREET: And from someone who left as recently as October last year…

MALCOLM BROMHEAD, FORMER REDEEMER TEACHER: It’s the emotional abuse, which in terms of public vilification at meetings, which would be seen in terms of the church as being a reproof and correction to help people, but that got out of hand and I’ve seen the trauma in people’s lives as a result of that. And also how people are emotionally frozen and therefore they expect that, they accept that, and therefore it’s not really questioned.

DEAN GREGORY: I can give you an example of the abuse. We were on a camp in 1990, up in Queensland, and there was a young lady, she had an eating disorder. She was struggling with eating her meals. This was a high schooler’s camp. At mealtimes we would all sit there listening to Noel telling her to eat her food, and then when she wouldn’t eat her food, he’d slap her in the face. She actually threw up some food and Noel made her eat her own vomit at one stage.

DANIEL STREET: David Millikan is a Uniting Church minister and religious expert who for a long time has been hearing stories about the goings on at Redeemer Baptist.

DAVID MILLIKAN, UNITING CHURCH MINISTER & RELIGION EXPERT: Redeemer ultimately is answerable only to Noel Cannon. That’s where the problem lies. He recognises no authority over him whatsoever except the authority of God, and he believes that he has the mind of God.

DANIEL STREET: The Redeemer Church commune is located in a series of residential properties in the western Sydney suburb of Parramatta. Many of those who have left say the church’s control extended to the splitting and separation of families.

MALCOLM BROMHEAD: So people within the community even are separated from their own children, and that caused a lot of heartache, a lot of pain.

JENNY NEISH: The fact that they make decisions that even the mother and the father of a family can’t even say no to, like taking a teenage child out of their own home.

DANIEL STREET: Did you see that happen?

JENNY NEISH: Yes, yes.

ANDREW FROST: I would be told by Noel that your parents are not the perfect role model for you. They’ve got these problems, these issues.

DANIEL STREET: What problems? What would he say?

ANDREW FROST: He would say dad’s got an anger problem, he may say mum’s insecure. It changed from week to week, whatever he was attacking them about.

DANIEL STREET: It happened more than once?

ANDREW FROST: It happened on a weekly basis nearly when I was young and he would suggest to me that I model my life on other people’s families within the community, namely, his son. I looked at them as role models because my parents weren’t seen as a fit role model.

DEAN GREGORY: And it got to the point where he broke the bond between my sister and I and my parents.

DANIEL STREET: How old were you at this stage?

DEAN GREGORY: I would say probably this was really around about 16, I’d say, the power was broken. And then so if I ever had any issues in life or I was thinking about things or I wanted to talk to someone about it the first person that popped into my mind was Noel Cannon, not my father or my mother.

ALAN NUTT: When you mention any of these instances to people, their response is often, “How did you ever let it happen?” or, “Why did you stay?”

DANIEL STREET: How did you?

ALAN NUTT: Because, as we said, the real reason was the degree of commitment that saw your life being absolutely given over to God’s order and…

DANIEL STREET: But there’s something very abnormal and wrong about the splitting up of a family.

ALAN NUTT: Absolutely, there’s no question about that. But again, it was always couched in terms, “It will be better for the child. They’ll be better off. They’ll learn more. They’ll grow up to be a better man or better woman.”

DANIEL STREET: Sam Gibson was nine years old when his mother died. Soon after, he and his siblings were taken from their father and scattered around the community. Did you ever say to dad, “Why have we been moved apart?”

SAM GIBSON: No, because I the analogy that I put to the whole Redeemer experience is like a crab. You put it into cold water and turn the heat up slowly and over the last decade or two decades the crab doesn’t realise the water is getting hotter and hotter and eventually it will kill it. It just accepts the changes and obviously accepts death.

ALAN NUTT: I think probably the psychological damage has been perhaps the major factor as a result of Noel’s intrusion into the personal lives of these people. It’s the psychological damage and the brainwashing that has gone on.

DANIEL STREET: Brainwashing?

ALAN NUTT: Brainwashing perhaps — not even in the loosest term — I think it’s very deliberate brainwashing to change people’s mindset about personal relationships, family relationships. To be told constantly that your parents are no good, ultimately the young person believes that and therefore if I’m going to make it in this life, I need to be in another household where I’m going to be ‘properly’ cared for.

DANIEL STREET: Sunday requested an interview with Noel Cannon to answer these many allegations of control and manipulation. But he was unable to speak with us, as he was ill in hospital. Instead, we spoke with another Redeemer elder, Russell Bailey.

RUSSELL BAILEY: There isn’t control and manipulation from Noel Cannon. People live a voluntary life here together. It’s an ordered life. It’s a life in which we encourage each other to live according to biblical standards. And that’s different from a lot of the society. We accept that.

DANIEL STREET: In 1981, Redeemer Baptist Church expanded its ministry to education. Over a weekend, they formed their own school, called Redeemer Baptist. Catering for both primary and secondary students who receive numerous accolades and awards, the school for many is the epitome of quality education. But at end of 2004, something went wrong. 28 Redeemer Church members, including 14 teachers, left the community and school en masse. The exodus sparked local media attention and suddenly the school was engulfed in controversy. Malcolm Bromhead is one of the teachers who left after 28 years at Redeemer.

MALCOLM BROMHEAD: There was a build-up in 2004 of issues which emerged and I discussed fully as the year went on where I could not see any changes would occur unless something dramatic occurred, like my leaving, to force them to consider. But the issues which I raised in terms of the constant public vilification of people in the church, the unaccountability of the eldership and less and less freedoms, and so all aspects of your life were controlled, including finances, and all aspects of life.

DANIEL STREET: What about finances? What do you mean by that?

MALCOLM BROMHEAD: Well, even if you… Whether it is your tax return or whether you were applying for Centrelink, that was all done for you.

DANIEL STREET: Enter Graham Glossop, local Parramatta accountant, whose daughter had been a student at Redeemer Baptist and who had only months earlier on Sunday praised the school.

GRAEME GLOSSOP, ACCOUNTANT: I took my daughter out of a public school and the school she came from was Redeemer Baptist. I put her back into Redeemer Baptist for the next three years. I never heard a peep out of anybody harassing anybody.

DANIEL STREET: But when teachers from the school he praised got in touch with him, telling stories of control, manipulation and how they’d walked away from Redeemer with little or no money, Graham Glossop decided to step in.

GRAEME GLOSSOP: They’re under the independent teacher’s award and they’re supposed to be paid a certain amount of money. Well, you take an instance of one teacher that’s left, she is now on $61,500 a year and she was getting paid $11,000 while she was in there.

DANIEL STREET: Vanessa Bromhead is another of the teachers who left Redeemer Baptist in October last year.

VANESSA BROMHEAD, FORMER REDEEMER TEACHER: Having always been taught never talk about finances, never ask any questions about finances, I had no idea exactly what I could have been earning and was unaware of what it was, what a normal teacher’s salary was.

DANIEL STREET: Why did you hand over control?

VANESSA BROMHEAD: Well, I was born there, I grew up in it. I never handed over control because I never had control.

GRAEME GLOSSOP: These people are paid a minuscule amount. One woman was there for 10 years and she’s paid $3,000 a year. She’s owed $416,000.

DANIEL STREET: Of the school staff who left last year, all are set to lodge wage claims with the Industrial Relations Commission that add up to almost $6.5 million. Church elder Russell Bailey says it’s the money that’s motivating former Redeemer members to speak out now.

RUSSELL BAILEY: The control and manipulation stories are all about the $6 million. That’s what they’re after.

DANIEL STREET: I can tell you they’re not. A lot of the people I’ve spoken to have nothing to do with seeking money. They’re worried about the control and manipulation. They’ve said they’ve been affected by it.

RUSSELL BAILEY: They’re part of this campaign that has been gathered together by Graeme Glossop.

GRAEME GLOSSOP: They’ve got no termination pay, no long service leave. They were there 27 years and 15 years, some of those families, and they got none of those things. And I just couldn’t believe that a Christian school would do this.

DANIEL STREET: Yet Redeemer says it owes the former members nothing because of this — it’s their ministry order, which states that everyone who enters the church becomes a minister of religion and is asked to voluntarily give up assets to the church, including family homes. Church members who work in the school are deemed ministers of religion, so instead of the award wage, they are paid a stipend. Now Redeemer is a government-funded school receiving more than $2 million last year. While that’s all above board, what raises eyebrows is that these stipends are so low, well below the award wage, that it allows its members to claim Centrelink benefits. There’s nothing illegal in that, rather, it’s just a convenient arrangement for Redeemer to collect taxpayer funds through government grants and for its ministers to claim government benefits as well.

VANESSA BROMHEAD: I know students pay fees. I know they get federal grants, so I don’t actually know where it goes. There’s never any transparency in finances. Nothing is ever discussed with anybody. And when you I asked a couple of questions at taxation time, when my tax was being done for me, I was told, “No, just leave it in our hands, just trust us. We’ll look after it.” And you were just taught not to ask questions about anything like that.

DANIEL STREET: So you did receive a Centrelink payment?

VANESSA BROMHEAD: Whilst I was at university, yes, and then whilst I was teaching I had the healthcare card because I was below the lowest income levels and when you had to refill that card out, that was done for me, yes.

DANIEL STREET: Russell Bailey is the bursar at Redeemer Baptist School. Doesn’t come across your desk, these Centrelink forms?


DANIEL STREET: You’ve never filled one out?

RUSSELL BAILEY: Some people may come and say, “Look, I’ve got a question here. How do I answer it?”

DANIEL STREET: But isn’t it true that given they’re on such a low amount, that means they’re entitled to Centrelink benefits?

RUSSELL BAILEY: That’s between them and the government.

DANIEL STREET: But it’s convenient, isn’t it?

RUSSELL BAILEY: There are means tests, assets tests, income tests.

DANIEL STREET: But it’s convenient, isn’t it?

RUSSELL BAILEY: Well, it may be between them and the government. That’s not something I have control over.

DANIEL STREET: Yet all your staff are also part of the church.

RUSSELL BAILEY: That is not something that I have control over and it’s not something that I would be engineering in any way. We provide the stipends that are appropriate and that are available.

DANIEL STREET: And what of church members being enticed to give up assets? You even gave up your house, didn’t you?

MALCOLM BROMHEAD: That would have been part of, about 12 years ago. It was all part of the bigger vision of being prepared to do what God wants us to do.

DANIEL STREET: 28 years later, what have you left Redeemer with?

MALCOLM BROMHEAD: When we initially walked out, we had to walk out with nothing.

DANIEL STREET: It also says on your ministry order, that “on leaving the order, members shall agree that the return of the property used by the order is at the discretion of the elders.”

RUSSELL BAILEY: “Return of any property that is used by the order” — that’s property that belongs to them but is used by the order. So people may choose to give something outright.

DANIEL STREET: Including their homes, which has happened?

RUSSELL BAILEY: They may choose to give something outright. If they’ve given something outright, that’s given.

DANIEL STREET: Financial disputes aside, there are concerns about the lack of transparency in the way the Redeemer Baptist Church runs the Redeemer Baptist School.

TIM COSTELLO, BAPTIST CHURCH REPRESENTATIVE: Look, I think there should be a clear break between the two being the same legal entity. I think a school — particularly a school receiving public moneys — should be arms length from a church, which in this case has no other checks and balances, no other denominational checks and balances, because Redeemer is a church that stands alone under the authority of one man, Noel Cannon.

DANIEL STREET: Tim Costello, former head of the Baptist Union of Australia. He’s been concerned for years about reports coming out of Redeemer and rejects any connections between Redeemer Baptist and the mainstream Baptist Church.

TIM COSTELLO: Look, I think people in the school should know that the style of the church is really a personalist authoritarian style and it is extraordinarily, um, cruel in the way it deals with any member of the community who has had a doubt, questions Noel Cannon’s authority, certainly, chosen to leave the community.

MALCOLM BROMHEAD: The school’s done a lot of great things and it’s those good things it’s done, I guess, in a way blinded me to the negatives that I didn’t see, so a lot of the young people that have left have left confused, have left doubting themselves, have left in a way which, as I’ve seen now, has caused long-term damage.

DANIEL STREET: Lois Maccullagh was a student at Redeemer Baptist for nine years.

LOIS MACCULLAGH, FORMER REDEEMER STUDENT: I was made to feel like my Christian faith wasn’t good enough and that the only way it could be good enough was to go along with them and their way of life. They tried to make me doubt my family, doubt my own beliefs and see their way as the only way.

DANIEL STREET: Are students at the school recruited to join the church?

VANESSA BROMHEAD: ‘Recruitment’ would be a word that would be rejected, but recruitment in terms of the fact that you see a child come to believe in Christ whilst at camp. They don’t have a church to go to. You say, “Why not come along to ours?” And then students who may have problems behaviourally at school and you say, “Why not come along to our church?” And they may come for a while and some even join.

DANIEL STREET: And that’s encouraged?

VANESSA BROMHEAD: That is definitely encouraged, yes.

DEAN GREGORY: Parents, they need to know that this is going on. Their kid might be getting a great education but in the meantime people’s lives are being destroyed. People are just being used like canon fodder, pardon the pun.

DANIEL STREET: But parents put forward by Redeemer Baptist praised the quality of the school’s education, saying its church connection is of no concern for them.

JULIE WOOD, REDEEMER SCHOOL PARENT: It’s a fantastic school. There is no bullying. There are no drugs, there is no graffiti. My kids love going there.

DANIEL STREET: So what you’re saying is the education at Redeemer is excellent, but you’re not sure about the church side?

JULIE WOOD: Yeah, and I don’t care. I’m not a part of the church and I’m not a part of the community.

CHERYL MORRIS, REDEEMER SCHOOL PARENT: Their lives outside of school really aren’t any of my business. You know, if you put your children in a public school you don’t vet all the teachers that they have and their life outside of school. And I can’t speak highly enough of Redeemer. They have really supported us and had just such positive input into our lives as a family and particularly into the lives of the children.

DANIEL STREET: Yet from someone who has seen both sides of the school, as a student and then later as a teacher.

JENNY NEISH: When I was a student I absolutely loved it and thought it was fantastic, but as a teacher you’re part of the church and the demands that are placed upon you as being a member of the church is enormous and it was almost like a facade, I guess you might say, to the parents of the school and the way that we presented to the school that were very loving and accepting and gracious, but in the church it was completely different. There wasn’t that same facade of understanding and accepting — you had to toe the line.

DANIEL STREET: The former members we spoke to no longer have to toe the Redeemer line. But they all explained that leaving such a rigid community was far from easy.

JENNY NEISH: I packed during the day and at night Murray would take what I had packed to a storage unit.

DANIEL STREET: So you secretly left?


DANIEL STREET: Why didn’t you just walk out the front door?

JENNY NEISH: It wasn’t that easy. The pressure you’re under and the monitoring and the control of everything you do, it’s just not that easy, and you’re so tightly involved in this group that they know everything that you’re doing just about all of the time and what you’re involved in and they keep tabs on what you’re up to emotionally and spiritually and we knew that if they knew we were serious about leaving and were going to leave, that we would just be, you know, almost harassed into the fact that we were doing the wrong thing and that this is not right and you’re walking out into darkness.

DANIEL STREET: So you actually confronted Redeemer with your grievances?

ANDREW FROST: Yes, I did. I went to see Noel and went into his study and had a list of concerns that I wanted to speak to him about.

DANIEL STREET: What did you say to him?

ANDREW FROST: I only got to point one.

DANIEL STREET: How did he react?

ANDREW FROST: He exploded.


ANDREW FROST: He slammed the desk. He looked at me and said, “You’re a child of Satan. Your life will amount to nothing. It’s time for you to go.”

DANIEL STREET: What did you say?

ANDREW FROST: Well, I didn’t say anything. I actually just walked out the door with the determination that my life would amount to something.

VANESSA BROMHEAD: I was told that I would never get a job; I would never be able to teach anywhere else. I would not be able to be successful anywhere else. And you are also told that you’re turning your back on God, and that’s a pretty heavy thing to have someone say to you. So to combine the fact that you know nobody outside of Redeemer, so where do you go, you can’t get the financial… You can’t build up your finances to then go and set yourself up, because you can’t do that before you leave…

DANIEL STREET: So you felt trapped?

VANESSA BROMHEAD: You are absolutely trapped, yes.

DANIEL STREET: More ominous is the claim by former members that once they leave the confines of the commune, they are cut off completely from family members left inside.

DEAN GREGORY: The hardest thing about leaving was leaving my sister behind.

SAM GIBSON: My father has now left. I have a brother and sister who still remain there.

DANIEL STREET: So your family is still split?

SAM GIBSON: Yes, absolutely.

ALAN NUTT: I think they’ve divided our family very seriously. We have three daughters and six grandchildren still there. I think it’s destroyed the family in that we have only two-thirds of our kids and a very small number of our grandchildren that we can actually now relate to. And I’m sad for them because they’ve chosen to believe a lie.

DANIEL STREET: Who do you blame?

ALAN NUTT: I blame Noel Cannon for that, unquestioningly. There’s no doubt in my mind that he is the one who has initiated that wedge that he’s driven between us and our children. But he’s done the same thing with many, many other families, and you get the same story every time.

RUSSELL BAILEY: We don’t split up families.

DANIEL STREET: You don’t split up families?


DANIEL STREET: You don’t cut people off once they leave?

RUSSELL BAILEY: No. When these people left, this particular group of people, and they put in their claims for $6 million, claims they said would be followed by legal action, there were folk in here who were reticent then to receive contact from their family members at that time, until this thing is sorted out.

DANIEL STREET: So you’re saying these people didn’t want to talk to their families?

RUSSELL BAILEY: When other people — it’s certainly not a decision that anyone else makes, but an individual.

ANDREW FROST: My motivation for speaking out is that Redeemer is the only thing that separates me and my brother. He won’t speak to me because he’s part of it.

DANIEL STREET: Have you have you tried to speak to him?

ANDREW FROST: I’ve tried on numerous occasions.

DANIEL STREET: What happened?

ANDREW FROST: I ring up and I was told he’s not there; he doesn’t want to speak to you. I’ve turned up and been told to leave, I’m on private property.

DANIEL STREET: In response to these claims, Redeemer sent us this statutory declaration signed by Andrew Frost’s brother Glen.

STATUTORY DECLARATION OF GLEN FROST: “I decided that I would not keep in regular contact with my brother unless I could find some confidence that my brother respected my decision to contribute to the ministry of Redeemer Baptist Church as a member of the ministry order.”

DANIEL STREET: NSW MP Reverend Gordon Moyes, from Wesley Mission, was put forward by Redeemer to speak on their behalf.

REV GORDON MOYES, WESLEY MISSION AND NSW MP: It’s quite normal for groups that are very, very close to one another to close ranks, and sometimes when family members have broken privilege or secrets or whatever it is that they’ve had, other members find it difficult to accept them back into the family. I personally believe we ought to go as far as we can to welcome everybody back into the family of God and to our own human families.

DAVID MILLIKAN: There’s a sense of isolation, a sense that they now control the truth and that anyone who’s outside of their group must necessarily be wrong.

VANESSA BROMHEAD: I mean, I was told in leaving the church that I would lose my faith and I was going to hell and damnation because I had left THE church. Not understanding that the church is a much wider place.

ALAN NUTT: Coming out of Redeemer you are absolutely denigrated and made to feel just less than human, if you are leaving that place — you’re a walking away from God, you’re walking into darkness, you’re going to hell.

DANIEL STREET: How would you describe Redeemer?

ANDREW FROST: As a cult.


ANDREW FROST: Absolutely.


ANDREW FROST: Well, in their eyes, they are the only ones that have got it completely right, everyone else is wrong, the rest of the world is wrong. They are the only ones that have a direct line with God.

REV GORDON MOYES: Well, Redeemer is an orthodox Christian group. If you took a spectrum of orthodoxy, they are not a cult. A cult works on the basis of incorrect biblical views or improper doctrine. They are orthodox in their beliefs. They are biblical in their beliefs. They are not up the liberal end of the spectrum. They are up the other end, which is the fundamentalist end.

DANIEL STREET: But Reverend Tim Costello says Redeemer Baptist IS a cult, this church, formerly shrouded in secrecy, now finally being thrust into the limelight.

TIM COSTELLO: I’ve seen the pain when I was contacted by some of the people who have been hurt. They’re fine people. They’re Christian people. And yet they’ve been hurt by what really is an authoritarian leader in what amounts to, in my view, in its practice, a cult.

DANIEL STREET: Why do you describe Redeemer as a cult?

TIM COSTELLO: I’d use that word because churches that aren’t a cult accept they don’t have the whole truth, they don’t have the right to say, if somebody leaves, they’ve left God, they’ve gone to Satan, they’ve betrayed a community and therefore they can have no contact with their family members.

DANIEL STREET: Are you a cult?

RUSSELL BAILEY: No, we’re not a cult. We’re a Christian ministry. We love this life. That’s why we live it and we’ll go on living it.

DAVID MILLIKAN: No church should be splitting up families. No church should be separating people from the world and putting them in this hostile, suspicious sort of frame, and no church should leave people with a sense of terror that if they lose the group or step outside of that strict way that the group sets up, that they are somehow doomed to hell.

VANESSA BROMHEAD: I think fear is a large mark of Redeemer. People are too fearful to try to do anything, to leave, to go anywhere, to ask questions. The whole structure is run by fear.

About Nine Network’s Sunday program


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