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Date Posted:12/07/2008 4:08 AMCopy HTML

The Whitehorse Gazette

The following articles appeared in the Leader local newspaper (city of Whitehorse in Melbourne's eastern suburbs), The Whitehorse Gazette, 15th of April, 1998, pp 8, 9.

Church Moves in Amid Concerns


WHITEHORSE Council approved an application from Revival Centres International for a permit to develop a place of assembly at 275 Middleborough Rd, Box Hill South, in April last year. The application was advertised, no objections were received and the permit was granted under delegation. Last week former members of the religious group expressed concern about its move into Whitehorse and spoke out in a bid to raise community awareness. JULIE DOYLE reports.

FORMER members of an extreme religious group have spoken out in a bid to warn Whitehorse residents of the organisation's impending move to the area. Revival Centres International, former owner of the Forum Theatre in the city, has bought the Campion Books premises in Middleborough Rd, Box Hill South and is expected to move in during the next few weeks.

Mont Albert resident Troy Waller said he joined Revival Centres International when he was 13, after being introduced to the group by a school friend. Mr Waller, 27, was a member of the group for four years until he was expelled, or "disfellowshipped" as it is known, for breaking its celibacy rules. While he was a member Mr Waller said he became increasingly aware of the way members were manipulated by the church and the cruel way in which people were isolated from their friends within the group after being kicked out. "Ninety per cent of my significant relationships were in the church and all of a sudden after leaving I was cut-off," he said. "I was doing my HSC (Higher School Certificate) and I didn't fail but I got quite sick and there was a lot of tension because I was carrying all of these issues."

Mr Waller, who is studying the group as part of a masters degree at Monash University, now believes Revival Centres International is a cult. "They appear as a perfect church but this group uses guilt, fear and shame to manipulate and control their believers," he said. "They use very subtle forms of mind control. Slowly and progressively over time they start conditioning you to think certain ways." Mr Waller said group members were unable to criticise or question the leaders in any way or associate with any other churches. He said Revival Centres International believed it was the only true church and people must speak in tongues to be saved. Followers are permitted to marry only fellow members. Since leaving the church Mr Waller has established a site on the internet to help other former group members. "People that come out have been conditioned to think everything is wrong and of the devil, "When they leave they have nowhere to go and the only people who really understand them are ex-members."

SUE Durrant is another ex-member of Revival Centres International who experienced the effect it can have on families. Although Ms Durrant left the group her husband remained and they have since divorced. Her two children still attend services when they are with their father (see story opposite page). Ms Durrant joined Revival Centres International when she was 17-years-old and remained a member for 18 years. "I'm not vindictive about the people, I am about the organisation. It's a cult," she said. "They will doorknock and they will leaflet drop in the area. "People need to know what they are so they can make an educated decision."

The Concerned Christian Growth Ministries is an organisation which offers support to people involved in extreme religions and tries to raise awareness of such groups. Its director, Adrian van Leen, said his organisation had been monitoring the activities of Revival Centres International in Australia and overseas. Mr van Leen described the church as an extreme Christian fringe group which was "very cultic in nature, very controlling and very dominating". He said his organisation had received more than 100 complaints about the group. Mr van Leen said his organisation tried to provide fair and accurate information because "people have a right to know what they are getting into". He said Revival Centres International was exclusive and elitist. "They control and dominate, if not manipulate," he said. Mr van Leen said in his experience people were most vulnerable to extreme religious groups when they were suffering emotional trauma, from financial problems or relationship breakdown.

HAWTHORN resident Lloyd Longfield started Revival Centres International 50 years ago. The group now has about 600 members in Melbourne and plans to move into premises in Middleborough Rd, Box Hill South, in the next few weeks. Last week the church attracted media attention when the Anti-Discrimination Tribunal ruled it was allowed to exclude a boy from worship for wearing an earring. Mr Longfield told the Gazette the church strictly followed the Bible and had rules against immoral and other types of behaviour that were contrary to its teachings. He said Revival Centres International did not believe it was the only true church but did believe its teachings were the only true way. He dismissed suggestions the group was a cult or controlled and dominated its members. "You come along and have a wonderful experience in the Lord," he said. "You are born again and from that time on you walk, carefully and more reasonably. "Every religious group is a cult. I suppose they say these things because they think we're out of line. " Mr Longfield said those who left the group did so because they could not follow the Bible. He denied members were told to ignore them. "Some people leave because the group doesn't suit them. They cut themselves off 90 per cent of the time," he said. "It's not that no one can speak to them, they're just not in fellowship any more. They have different interests and we don't see them any more." Mr Longfield said other churches had interpreted the Bible differently over the years and had agreed to disagree. But he said the Revival Centres International believed agreeing to disagree was not good enough. He also challenged anyone, at any time and on any platform, to discuss the Bible's teachings with him. "A lot of churches don't follow the Bible as closely as they should," he said. Mr Longfield said church members were welcome to discuss concerns with the leaders but those who left the church chose not to. "They talk to each other instead and cause trouble." He said the church would have to change its rules 1000 times if it did so every time a member disagreed with it. Mr Longfield defended the church's actions of "disfellowshipping" members for breaking the rules. He said in other churches people who disobeyed the Bible were given a "smack on the wrist" and were allowed to keep attending services. "The church as a rehabilitation centre is ridiculous," Mr Longfield said. Would you like to bring your kids to a church where people can do these things and it doesn't matter?" He said sometimes people were given a second chance but it depended on what they had done wrong.

Belief in Religious Freedom

MITCHAM Catholic parish priest the Rev Father Kevin Dillon said last week he was not concerned by the Revival Centres International move into Whitehorse as people had the right to religious freedom. But Fr Dillon said he had been disappointed to learn the 'group distributed anti-Catholic literature as he believed it was more important to accentuate the positive aspects of your own beliefs rather than criticise others. He said there would always be religious disputes but most churches had agreed to disagree and work together. Fr Dillon said the Good Friday March of Witness, which involved five local churches of various denominations, was an example of this co-operation. He said it was important to respect the religious beliefs of others and it would be regrettable if a church was intolerant of the doctrines and beliefs of others. Fr Dillon said while he disagreed with the Revival Centres International's comments about Catholicism, he respected their right to distribute literature to their own members.

Rebelling Against Control

MOTHER of three, Sue Durrant was a member of Revival Centres International for 18 years. While she was a member she classified herself as a "good revivalist" and followed the rules. But as the years passed she began to question the church's teachings and finally made the difficult decision to leave even though her husband remained in the group. This decision cost Ms Durrant her marriage, but she has since rebuilt her life and plans to remarry. She said the road back to religious and personal independence was a struggle and was achieved only after undergoing intensive "deprogramming" through a mainstream church. Ms Durrant said she first started to question the church when it began to denounce other religions. "I felt that wasn't Christian but they were very persuasive and they had an answer for everything by twisting the Scriptures." Ms Durrant said the church leaders were so dominating they controlled where a person could work or live. "If you got a transfer to a place that didn't have a Revival Centre they told you not to go and it didn't matter if you lost your job because 'God would provide'." After leaving the group Ms Durrant was isolated from her friends and her family. "I was completely cut-off. The children were taken away from me and every weekend I was at home by myself while the children went to church functions. "They went on camps during the holidays and I was separated from them a lot. "My husband was encouraged to take other women out to dinner and the movies." Another ex-member, Helen (who did not want to reveal her surname), said she considered Revival Centres International to be a very controlling sect. Helen was a member of the church for 18 years having joined at 17 after attending services at the invitation of her boyfriend. "At first I really enjoyed it, but as the years went by I realised how controlling it was, especially of my children." It was the church's attempt to control her children that forced Helen and her husband to leave the group. Helen's three children attended two meetings on Sundays and she felt that was enough. But the church also wanted the youngsters to attend Sunday school after the completion of the other two meetings. "I just said I don't want the children to go. "They tolerated it for about eight weeks before they said send the children to Sunday school or find somewhere else to fellowship," Helen said. "After 18 years I couldn't believe it. I didn't want to be part of a group that wanted to control my children."
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