Brethren Investigation
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NEWS

Religious Sect That Tried to Censor LGBTQ Content from Human Rights Museum Also Asked George W. Bush to Stop Gay Marriage in Canada, Documents Show

Anti-gay marriage campaign one part of sect’s larger political organizing, new documents suggest.

This is Part 1 of an Investigative Series: Merchants in the Temple – How an Anti-LGBTQ Religious Sect Wields Money & Power in Canada
Find the full "Merchants in the Temple" series:
This is Part 1 of an Investigative Series: Merchants in the Temple – How an Anti-LGBTQ Religious Sect Wields Money & Power in Canada
Find the full "Merchants in the Temple" series:

A secretive religious sect that tried to censor LGBTQ content from the Canadian Human Rights Museum also sent letters to former US President George W. Bush in 2005 asking him to stop gay marriage in Canada, leaked documents show.

Two Manitoba schools run by the Plymouth Brethren Christian Church requested censored tours from the Canadian Human Rights Museum in 2020, and then later apologized for trying to stop CHRM from releasing the names of their schools to the CBC.

Now, leaked documents obtained by PressProgress have revealed new details about how the Plymouth Brethren Christian Church appeared to organized a 2005 campaign against gay marriage, though the PBCC has denied official involvement.

The Plymouth Brethren Christian Church, also known as the “Exclusive Brethren,” is a religious sect with only 50,000 members around the world, particularly in the UK, Australia and New Zealand. In Canada, the Brethren are believed to have fewer than 10,000 members. 

The Brethren were the subject of a 2022 CityNews documentary that brought to light allegations from former members detailing how they were cut off from friends and families under the Brethren’s “doctrine of separation.” The Brethren disputes these claims and denies it is a “cult” — the group’s  leader is listed on its website as Bruce Hales of Sydney, Australia. 

In a previous statement to PressProgress, The Brethren responded that “the description of the Brethren as a cult is just not true,” and added: “We are not secretive, but we are often misunderstood.”

The 2005 anti-gay marriage campaign appears coordinated by a committee of Brethren members called the North American Commission for Representation to Government, documents show. The Brethren also appears to have compiled a booklet of letters from Canadian members asking Bush to pressure former Prime Minister Paul Martin and Conservative leader Stephen Harper to oppose the Civil Marriage Act in 2005. 

The PBCC did not confirm or deny the existence of the Commission, but noted the church was not officially involved in any current activity under the Commission’s name.

“What we can say with certainty is that if anyone is using the name North American Commission for Representation to Government, they would be doing so on their own volition and without involvement from our church,” a PBCC representative told PressProgress.

“As with any other church or large organization, members pursue their own interests professionally, personally and politically.”

While Brethren members do not vote or donate to political parties, individual members may lobby representatives, make public political statements or donate to individual politicians, a PBCC representative previously noted.

“You have enquired about possible activities of members nearly 20 years ago, and in line with that there is little detail to verify or confirm your claims.”

North American Commission Contact Booklet obtained by PressProgress

However, a copy of the 2005 Commission directory obtained by PressProgress suggests a high level of coordination among Brethren members across Canada. Members are listed as having the following roles and responsibilities within the Commission: Senior Panel, Research Reporting, Procedure/Strategy, and Strategy/Implementation. The Commission directory also lists dozens of Regional Coordinators and Local Contacts across Canada and the US.

Canadian Brethren members were also expected to lobby the government on a number of issues, including healthcare, foreign policy, immigration, education, the economy, justice and moral issues, according to the directory.

Robb MacKinnon, an ex-Brethren member, is listed as Quebec’s Regional Coordinator in the directory. MacKinnon verified Commission members engaged in government outreach and lobbying on behalf of The Brethren, funded by their own small businesses.

“As business owners, we were expected to expense things for our government outreach and lobbying to our businesses,” MacKinnon told PressProgress.

Richard Marsh, an ex-Brethren member who has come forward about his participation in the Brethren’s anti-gay marriage campaign, is listed as a Local Contact in the Commission directory.

The Commission directory has a note that prohibits members from making copies of the document, sharing information within it, and notes certain phone numbers listed are “not secure.”

NARGC Urgent Memo

This Commission also appears to have coordinated Brethren members in a campaign against same sex marriage in 2005. The Commission sent an “urgent” memo to “Canadian Households” in January 2005 urging them to oppose the “Same Gender Marriage Bill,” according to a copy of the memo obtained by PressProgress.

“Preventing the passage of this bill is absolutely critical,” the memo reads. “Reliable persons in government have predicted the following dire consequences if this bill is passed.”

“Gay persons will flood Canada from all over the world, with disastrous social results,” the memo explains. “There will eventually be no barriers to underage marriage, incestual relationships or polygamy.”

Other “dire consequences” listed in the memo include: the Brethren could lose its charitable status for refusing to perform gay marriages, churches could be sued for refusing to rent space for gay marriages, and increased persecution of Christians.

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Just weeks after the Commission’s memo was sent, the Brethren compiled the booklet of 23 letters from members across Canada addressed to President Bush on Canada’s Bill C-38, the Civil Marriage Act. The booklet is titled: “To President Bush: The Marriage Crisis in Canada: A Submittal from The Brethren.”

The cover page of a booklet of letters sent to then US President George W. Bush

The opening letter to Bush is signed by several high ranking US Brethren members and three Canadian Brethren members based in BC, Manitoba, and Quebec.

“Several Conservative MPs have told us that the effect of this legislation would be so severe that they would seriously consider leaving their native land,” the letter reads.

“Our urgent petition is that you take action as follows: 

Encourage Stephen Harper to be resolute in his stand against the Bill, and the draconian tactics being used to secure its passage.

Make a public statement regarding the necessity of Canada and the U.S. being jointly committed to the defense of marriage.”

Part of a letter to President Bush on the “Gay Marriage Crisis”

The booklet includes 23 letters from Brethren families across Canada, including six letters from Manitoba families based in Winnipeg, Stonewall and Woodlands. 

“With many Christian friends worldwide, we recently joined in prayers and activities to ensure your own re-election, and give Him thanks for continuing favourable Christian representation,” one Manitoban letter to Bush reads. “May I plead with you as a fellow believer on[sic] our Lord Jesus Christ to do all in your power to influence Mr Martin against committing this land to such a course of degradation.”

A letter to President Bush from a Manitoba resident

“The bill is coming up for second reading in Ottawa very soon,” another Manitoba letter to Bush reads, “We would respectfully ask if there is anything you can do to turn this tide of evil.”

The copies of these Brethren documents newly obtained by PressProgress provide further insight into the Brethren’s campaign against gay marriage originally reported in 2005.

In 2005, the Vancouver Sun reported the Plymouth Brethren was behind an “aggressive but anonymous direct-mail and advertising campaign against gay marriage” in opposition to Bill C-38.

Brethren members ran the campaign under the name “Concerned Canadian Parents” and listed the group’s mailing address at a 7-Eleven mailbox in Toronto.

A 2005 investigation from the Vancouver Sun into the Brethren

According to a 2005 investigation by the Vancouver Sun:

“BC Conservative MP James Moore, who is pro gay marriage said this week that CCP was responsible for roughly one-third of the 10,000 e-mails, faxes, and letters that streamed into his constituency office on Bill C-38, which was passed in the House of Commons last month.

Exclusive Brethren members have been on Parliament Hill for months, talking to MPs and attending committee meetings. About 30 members — including 10 women wearing head scarves — were in the public gallery during the vote on the bill.”

The Commission was allegedly dissolved around 2005, multiple ex-Brethren sources told PressProgress.

However, political activity among Brethren members in Canada has continued. Canadian Brethren members registered a third party advertiser called the Christian & Gospel Publishing Inc. during the 2006 federal election, raising $64,328. Many donor names match those listed in the Commission directory.

Brethren members also have a longstanding relationship with Conservative party insider, Harper advisor, and lawyer Gerald Chipeur. In 2009, Chipeur filed a lawsuit against a website run by ex-Brethren members critical of the sect, resulting in the site being shut down.

In 2019, thirteen PBCC members across Canada donated nearly $40,000 within 48 hours to the Canada Growth Council, a right wing third party advertiser during the 2019 federal election.

The political tactics of Canadian PBCC members appear consistent with tactics reportedly used by PBCC members around the world, including the US, the UK, New Zealand and Australia.

 

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Emily Leedham
Reporter
Emily Leedham is PressProgress’ Prairies Reporter. Her reporting has a special focus on workers and communities, big money and corporate influence, and systemic racism.

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