Wednesday, December 10, 2008


Christians, says the famous cop-out, 'are not perfect, just forgiven'.
But some imperfect Christians have a higher profile, and their evil is
more sinister, than others'.

Of course such imperfections/evil are not confined to one branch of
Christ's Church. Catholic bishops moving predatory priests from one
parish to another; the Exclusive Brethren's nasty habit of breaking up
families; the Presbyterian-based Melbourne cult 'The Fellowship' doing
the same [1]... the list goes on.

Morag's is the second book I've read about the malpractices of some
Australian Pentecostal leaders. The other: Barry Chant's 'Heart of Fire'
(1973, 1984, 1998). Barry has been, and Morag will be, vilified for
their exposes. My response in principle: the more whistleblowers of
their ilk, the better.

'Apostles of Fear' traces the sordid history of a cult-like Pentecostal
movement, whose churches (Melbourne Christian Fellowship, Brisbane
Christian Fellowship, et. al.) attracted people via promises of
doctrinal certainty (what, you haven't heard of 'Latter Rain'?), an
infallible route to Christian 'perfection', and their appealing music.

'Cults' as we're using the term here, are religious groups whose leaders
make concerted efforts at influence and control of their adherents.
Members, former members, and supporters of cults are manipulated,
exploited, or even abused. The followers zealously adhere to the
leaders' belief system: no dissent is allowed. The leadership dictates,
sometimes in great detail, how members should think, act, and feel. The
group works hard to protect itself from all the evils in the outside
world, or emanating from other groups. [2]

One of the key founders of Immanuel/Christian Fellowship Churches, Ray
Jackson, had the misfortune to have succumbed in a big way to all three
of the classical evils - abuses of money, sex, and power. Morag
interviewed people 'in the know' who claimed that Jackson probably paid
no taxes, and had a habit of carrying around large amounts of money in
paper bags. I have heard first-hand accounts of his and others' sexual
predations. He and his co-leaders mastered the art of sending followers
on 'guilt trips': blaming people for deaths in their families, and
especially by uttering terrible warnings against 'touching the Lord's
anointed' to keep critics in line. (I still occasionally hear this text
used in abusive/threatening ways in fundamentalist and Pentecostal
churches). Jackson was a really a classical small-time dictator: he
maintained a bevy of flatterers and informers, and lived in luxury
whilst expecting his followers to make extreme sacrifices (including
'double-tithing') to maintain the leaders' lifestyles. The 2008 ABC Four
Corners program [3] covered quite thoroughly the current abuses of power
in the Brisbane Christian Fellowship in particular. (How could an
eminent doctor be seduced by all this, to the extent that his marriage
came apart?).

I know personally half a dozen people mentioned in Morag's
well-researched book. I have the highest regard for one of them, Kevin
Conner, a godly and gracious servant-leader, who separated himself and
his family from Jackson's immediate influence by going in 1971 to the
U.S. to minister. I'm somewhat mystified by Kevin Conner's inability/
unwillingness to expose Jackson's misdeeds other than privately. The
whole nation rightly castigated Anglican Bishop Hollingworth for a
similar silence about sexual abuse, when he had the opportunity to deal
with it more justly.

Morag Zwartz did a thorough job of investigating this cult. She says she
left out a lot of bad stuff (alleged incest, questionable paternity,
predatory behaviour, suicide etc.). Sometimes she lands a judgment on
someone without supporting evidence, though we can be sure she has the
allegations well-covered within her extensive research. Some of the
details in the book (lists of names etc.) won't interest anyone other
than those in some way associated with these events, but at least they
underline the widespread dysfunction in this movement. (A minor
correction: there were no Montanists in the first century, as Morag
asserts (pp. 15, 18). Montanus started prophesying in the second
century, and his movement took off from the third century onwards -
until probably the 7th or 8th centuries. At least the Montanists
demonstrate that the essence of 'Pentecostalism' predated the Azusa
Street 'Revival'.)

We are in Morag Zwartz' debt: she interviewed all the relevant people
willing to talk (obviously some key people refused) and the result is a
wake-up call for all of us.

[1] See Morag Zwartz' 'Fractured Families: The Story of a Melbourne
Church Cult'

[2] More:


Rowland Croucher

December 10, 2008.



"I am currently reading the recently released book by Morag Zwartz. It
is a tragic story and the injustices done to so many people over so many
years needs bringing to the light and confronting appropriately.

My dad, Kevin Conner, was involved in Immanuel (now Melbourne Christian
Fellowship) in the very early years. Ray Jackson was the leader of the
church at the time and after becoming aware of some of the immorality
taking place, my dad confronted Ray directly. Unfortunately, Ray did not
respond and he began to shut my dad down and eventually excommunicated
him from the church. My dad continued to help people as he was able but
was basically cut off from the church. Our family moved to the USA in
1971 where we lived for 10 years. When we returned in 1981 we became
involved with Richard Holland and Waverley Christian Fellowship. By this
time Richard had cut off all relationship with Immanuel. Essentially, my
dad has had nothing much to do with Immanuel since 1971.

Morag had a brief meeting with my dad and I while doing research for her
book. Unfortunately, because my dad didn't know Morag, he chose not to
say very much at all to her about his experiences with Immanuel. As a
result, Morag ends up shedding a fairly negative light on my dad and his
perceived lack of action in confronting issues within this church. Due
to people such as my dad not saying much to Morag, she makes a number of
unsubstantiated claims in her book and she lacks some of the details
needed to paint a complete picture of what actually took place.

What I do know is that my dad has been very saddened by the developments
that have taken place in Immanuel after his departure and the many
people who have been hurt. He believes that he did all he could at the
time in confronting Ray Jackson and he has helped as many people who
have left as he has been able to.

Hopefully, this book will be a wakeup call against all forms of abusive
leadership within any church, a leadership style which is so
un-Christlike. I pray it will also encourage those within cultic groups
characterised by fear, manipulation, and control to leave and to know
that there is hope and healing available for them."

Mark Conner
Senior Minister
CityLife Church

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