ROTORUA – The Exclusive Brethren are part of a right-wing international religious campaign to “moralise” governments ahead of the coming of Christ, delegates at Labour’s annual conference were told today.
Paul Morris, professor of religious studies at Victoria University, said there had been a recent change in the Brethren’s thinking.
“It is that Jesus will only return when Christian governments rule,” he said.
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“The aim is to moralise governments so that Christ will arrive.”
The Brethren ran an initially covert campaign against Labour in last year’s election.
It enraged the Government, which says it spent $1.2 million supporting National.
Prof Morris was invited to speak at the conference to explain why this happened, and he said it was part of an international strategy that was “nothing less than phenomenal”.
“Right wing parties have struck up connections with these sects,” he said.
“It is skilful coalition-forming.”
He told about 120 delegates who attended his lecture that there were about 42,000 Exclusive Brethren worldwide, and about 6000 in New Zealand.
“They believe Satan has infiltrated governments,” he said.
“They are increasingly obsessed with security and terrorism … it is about saving themselves.”
Prof Morris said he did not think the Brethren were a threat to Labour, and had probably done more damage to National in last year’s election by aligning themselves with that party.
“The Exclusive Brethren have egg on their faces and will be more cautious next time — but don’t write them off,” he told delegates.
He won applause when he said Labour was still closer to the gospel than right-wing parties.
Poverty was a dominant theme of the Bible, and the early prophets had been obsessed with social justice.
“Labour needs to claim the moral high ground,” he said.
“The Christian left is still there, it needs to be nurtured.”
The lecture on the Brethren was billed as a conference highlight, but some government ministers were worried it might focus attention on the election and the spending row that has engulfed the Government.
Prime Minister Helen Clark dismissed the Brethren in her welcoming speech last night, saying their cover had been blown and she considered them a joke.
But the lecture was well attended and delegates raised questions about how sects like the Brethren should be handled.
Prof Morris said most of the right-wing relious theology was “shoddy” and he urged them to debate the issues.
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