The point is not whether the National Party is somehow behind the Exclusive Brethren pamphlets. The point is that the kind of world that a Don Brash led government would create is such a tidy fit with the views and mindset of people like the Exclusive Brethren, a sect based on the principals of exclusion and narrow morality, that they feel impelled to come out of hiding and jump into the political fray.
When the group of seven white men in their perfectly home-pressed white shirts say the country is in need of change, they don’t mean less tax or better delivery of health and education. They don’t mean more autonomy for business, less protection for the environment or the end of race-based support. They are speaking in a code that those on the fundamentalist far right can understand. Change to the Brethren means moral change.
In that world-view there is only one definition of the family. There no gay or lesbian families, no drinking, no drugs, no passion for the environment, no extreme views other than their own. In short there are none of the complexities and moral dilemmas we all face on a daily basis. These men, the promoters of the National party, want nothing less than the redefining of our society along the hierarchal lines of the church they represent.
Of course in the Exclusive Brethrenesque world that would flourish under a Brash-led National Party there would be nothing so overt as mandatory head-scarves or outlawed make-up or fashions circa 1950 or a limit to women’s education or opportunity. But the potential would be there, the groundwork laid with every soft voiced command, with the underlying smugness of father-knows-best power, with every condemnation couched in the pressed white shirt of gentlemanly manners.
The Exclusive Brethren take the long view. They want less government interference in people’s lives. In their world order the social dividend would be null and void. The state of things like health care and infrastructure is of no importance to them. Social imperatives that set a premium on well-rounded education, on imposing a standard of childcare, environmental protection or health would be of little value. That’s because God helps those who help themselves and financial success is the sign of God’s blessing (and their leaflet drop smacks of nothing if not disposable income) while being poor must surely be the result of indigence, of lack of character or intelligence or worse.
For church members to say they’re not acting on behalf of their church is disingenuous. For the men of the Exclusive Brethren there is no ‘outside-of-church.’ They are their religion. Which is why women and children are so tightly controlled, why TV, radio and the Internet are banned. The Exclusive Brethren do not live in the world as we know it. They are a community apart – home schooled, controlled, guided and from all reports; exploited, devalued and disrespected by their leaders, excluded from their society for the slightest misdemeanor. Their church lacks a democratic structure. They enforce rigid codes of behavior. Artistic endeavor is known not to be favored. A report presented to the British Psychological Society in 2000 found that those who leave the strict confines of the sect have mental problems far exceeding the usual rate in society. And this is the world they see Dr. Don Brash delivering.
It is irrelevant whether and what Brash et al knew about the pamphlet drops. What is important is why the Exclusive Brethren did it. In their white-washed world there are leaders and there are followers. There are rules and simple black and white edicts that make life easy. It is this flat world that the Brethren believe National comes closest to emulating.
When you consider your vote, think big. Don’t think about the tax cuts, the new roads for Auckland or any other of the promises. Think instead of the kind of social environment you want to live in. The Brethren are wealthy people, their money tightly controlled to benefit only those of like mind, who play by their rules and obey their ways. Imagine that kind of world insinuating itself over New Zealand. Personally I don’t want to live in any country the Exclusive Brethren’s would approve of. There’s an old Yiddish saying; a poor man shames us all. In the Brethrenesque new world order a poor man would shame only himself, God’s (and therefore society’s) blessing made manifest in the colour of your skin, the state of your bank balance, the whiteness of your cuffs, the fold of your headscarf and the blankness of your stare.
Barbara Sumner Burstyn © August 2005