Secretive worldwide sect battles Vermonter in court
Timothy Twinam of Williston says he just wants to tell the truth about what’s really going on inside the Exclusive Brethren, a well-heeled, reclusive evangelical Christian group with 43,000 members around the world.
“This is a very closed group,” said Twinam, 54, a native of Great Britain. “They don’t circulate much with people, and over the years they’ve become ever more exclusive and cultish.”
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The Exclusive Brethren says Twinam is a malcontent, a former church member who stole confidential documents to display them on www.Peebs.net, a Web site Twinam admits he created to encourage people to abandon the organization.
“The guy is a master of misdirection,” said Matthew Kirtland, a Washington, D.C., lawyer for the Bible & Gospel Trust, a charity run by the Exclusive Brethren. “As a lawyer, he’s tough to stomach. He has engaged in such bad conduct it’s distasteful.”
The deepening feud, involving constitutional free speech and copyright issues, is the basis of an unusual lawsuit in federal court and was the subject of a hearing Friday before Judge J. Garvan Murtha in Brattleboro.
The litigation also marks the first time a court will be employing Vermont’s SLAPP law, passed in 2006 and designed to prevent an entity from using the threat of a lawsuit to silence its critics. SLAPP is an acronym for Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation.
The Exclusive Brethren wants Murtha to make Twinam stop publishing the group’s copyrighted material and pay damages for the trouble he’s caused, according to papers filed with the court.
Twinam contends he has done nothing wrong. He said the Exclusive Brethren is trying to muzzle criticism of its practices. He said the “proprietary materials” at issue, including a poem written by his father, were documents he obtained from public sources.
“Given the importance of secrecy to the Exclusive Brethren and their willingness to litigate to further that interest, I take great care to operate Peebs.net in accordance with the law,” Twinam said in an affidavit on file at the court.
By all accounts, the Exclusive Brethren is a very closed society.
Twinam said the group’s rules also include isolating those who have fallen out of favor with the Exclusive Brethren and banning them from having further contact with members in good standing, even their spouses and children.
That’s what happened when Twinam’s father raised questions about the leadership of the group in 1970 and found himself “withdrawn from” the Exclusive Brethren shortly afterward.
[Twinam] steered clear of the Exclusive Brethren until the late 1990s when he began following a Web site run by a critic of the group. When the Exclusive Brethren succeeded in getting that Web site shut down, Twinam decided to create another one to take its place.
In the opinion of the publishers of Religion News Blog, the Exclusive Brethren movement is a cult both theologically and sociologically. Theologically the movement is a cult of Christianity.
See also: Churches That Abuse