The Exclusive Brethren leadership says its New Zealand members are free to vote in this year’s general election.
The secretive religious sect has also turned its back on other beliefs, with members now using cellphones and allowing their children to be taught computers at school.
Exclusive Brethren spokesman Tony McCorkell told the Weekend Herald voting was “a matter of conscience” for individual members and would not be discouraged.
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“You will have to ring the 7000 New Zealand members individually and ask what their intentions are,” he said.
Mr McCorkell said there was no “directive” from the sect’s leader, Sydney businessman Bruce Hales, to vote or who to vote for.
Exclusive Brethren members were behind a secret smear campaign on Labour and the Greens before the last election. Those members publicly stated they did not vote.
Mr McCorkell said there was no change in policy, but that the Exclusive Brethren’s position on voting had been misunderstood. He also confirmed computers were once banned but were now being used in the Exclusive Brethren network of Westmount schools throughout New Zealand.
He said the ban was initially in place because computers could not restrict the transfer of “morally questionable material”.
Mr McCorkell said computers had been used in Exclusive Brethren businesses and leaders were now satisfied appropriate “filters” could be placed on them. internet access was allowed.
“As time has gone by and technology has developed to a point where the Brethren can have their convictions and have the technology,” he said.
Mr McCorkell said cellphones could be used for business and church work but were not for “the youth” or “personal pleasure”. He denied there had been a “directive” from Mr Hales allowing computers and cellphones.
Peter Lineham, associate professor of history at Massey University who has studied the Exclusive Brethren, said its beliefs were clearly changing.
Mr Lineham said such changes would not be made without the sanction of Mr Hales, who the sect call the “Elect Vessel”.
A former Exclusive Brethren member, who did not want to be named, said voting, like computers, had previously been a “complete no-no”.
The former member said the Exclusive Brethren had always been contradictory.