A religious academic says the Exclusive Brethren‘s $1 million election campaign for a National-led government was more about bringing on Armageddon than New Zealand’s wellbeing.
The comments, from Victoria University senior lecturer Dr Marion Maddox, come amid ongoing revelations about the secretive sect’s involvement in the last election. The Brethren collected a $1.2m war-chest and prepared brochures supporting National leader Don Brash during the campaign. After legal advice, the brochures were changed to attack Labour and the Greens, and cost less than $1m.
The Brethren also heavied NZ First, United Future and the Maori Party during post election negotiations. Last week the Sunday Star-Times revealed National MPs, in a pre-election caucus meeting, found most had accepted Brethren help such as putting up billboards.
There were also allegations of push-polling. One Hamilton woman reported a Brethren schoolboy phoned her as part of a homework assignment in which students were taught to scorn those who said they would vote Labour.
Yesterday it was revealed the Brethren were building a windowless church in Cambridge, prompting fears it could become a hub for the religion.
Sect members have made little public comment since they were outed as employing a private investigator to dig dirt on Prime Minister Helen Clark.
Sect member Neville Simmons said he believed in the Rapture but the group just wanted prosperity for New Zealand. He said Maddox’s comments “were an interesting point of view”.
Brethren businessmen met MPs from most political parties before the election, taking a document titled “Suggested Initiatives for Prosperity in New Zealand” which called for a boost in defence spending and support for the “war on terror”, among other things.
Maddox, author of God Under Howard: the Rise of the Religious Right in Australian Politics, believed the Brethren were part of a movement of “pre-millennium dispensationalists” who were preparing for the Rapture and Armageddon, after which Jesus would return to rule the world.
Maddox said Brethren leaders overseas had connected the beliefs and elections and it was a concern the group’s motivation for campaigning was “about the timing of the end of the world rather than the way the government is run and everyone’s wellbeing”. The group wanted Christian governments because it was “setting the scene” for history’s climax.
The 15 Brethren-run private schools around New Zealand teach religious studies at least once a week. A teacher, who spoke to the Star-Times on condition of anonymity, said the schools were otherwise normal – although there was an unwritten ban on discussing religion or politics with the Brethren leaders. The Westmount campuses now have almost 1000 students attending, including more than 120 at the biggest campus in Kaipara. Under the government’s subsidy system for private schools, the Brethren receives just under $1.5m a year in public funding.
The teacher said there was talk among the Brethren community before last year’s election that getting a National government in place would mean more funding for schools – a carrot which contributed to the sect’s campaign.
National education spokesman Bill English said Westmount would benefit from the party’s policy of increasing private school subsidies. He said it was policy to increase private school funding back to 2000 levels, which was $300-$650 per pupil more than at present.