The Exclusive Taylorites
By ROGER GRESHAM COOKE, MP HAVE been overwhelmed by a flood of stories lof broken homes, strange family exclusions and suicides since I began delving into the activities of the Taylorite Exclusive Brethren.
A woman in my constituency had complained to me that her husband would not speak to her, would not have meals in the same room as her or the children, and would not live with her. She had instructed lawyers to try to get some order in her life, but, in the meantime, she hoped that a Parliamentary Bill would condemn as illegal such practices as those followed by her husband and his strange sect.
The religious sect known as the Exclusive Brethren imposes on its members the duty of hav- ing no contact with non-members, whom it regards as 'unclean and vessels of dishonour.' The sect was being led into more extreme paths by W. J. Taylor—'Big Jim Taylor' as some call him —the leader of the Brethren, a linen draper from New York, who from time to time made visits to this country to encourage the faithful.
In the last century, J. N. Darby, who was originally a member of the Church of Ire- land, founded the movement of Brethren, who were to get back to the simplicities of the Scriptures, live a life modelled on Christ, and sustain the faith and make converts in cottage-type meetings. At the middle . of the century, the Brethren became divided into two sections, the open Brethren, who became gener- ally known as the Plymouth Brethren, and the Exclusive Brethren, who were much stricter and followed 'The Path of Separation.' From 1930 onwards, the leader of the Exclusives was James Taylor Snr., father of the present leader, who had lived in Ireland, in Paisley and then emigrated to America. Those who accepted his teachings believed in keeping themselves exclu- sive from the rest of the world as far as humanly possible, fearful of a terrible hell. Parents put pressure on children to join: they could be ac- cepted into the meeting at the age of seven or eight. At the age of twelve they were interviewed by the leading 'saints' of the district, when full admission into the church was symbolised by the breaking of bread. The rules were spread by word of mouth, but the teachings were passed on by long discourses of the itinerant preachers, whose expenses were paid by the meeting.
Those families who followed this exacting faith were not allowed to read novels, possess a wire- less, enter cinemas, restaurants or public houses, or to mix with those who were not members of the Exclusives.
The vital change in the movement appeared in 1953, when James Taylor Snr. died and there emerged two possible leaders, G. R. whose teachings were similar to those of the dead leader, and 'Imes Taylor Jnr., the son, a force- ful and ruthless character according to his de- tractors. He gradually obtained control of the movement and strengthened the interpretation of his father's teaching, restricted personal liberty even further and established `An Assembly of Conscience' which put members under its direc- tion with terrible results. The leaving of the sect by one member had been possible before, but now became attended by the most drastic form of excommunication.
From this period spring mainly the sixty Of more cases that I have on my files of great family misery and mental agony. For instance, one woman says her husband, who is sixty-one and had been with the sect since childhood, was turned out of it because he refused to leave his trade union, of which be had to be a member, his work being in a closed shop; then one of the sisters of the sect suggested to her that she should leave her husband to make him have a nervous breakdown and so force 'him back to the sect. Their daughter married a member of the sect, but the parents were not allowed at the wedding and their wedding presents were refused.
Members are not supposed to take a cup of tea at work offered by a non-member. A son of a local postman was friendly with a farmer's son and during a storm was given shelter and a meal by the farmer's wife, but when he returned home he was told he could no longer eat with his family as he had par- taken of food with 'unbelievers.' A boy of seven at a village school was told by a schoolmate that there are only two types of family, 'the family of Jesus and the family of the devil,' and all outside the Exclusives were of the latter type. The two Misses Rhodes of Cannock were driven to suicide when they were told to stop their nor- mal dealings with the Egg Marketing Board, the source of their livelihood—the mark of the Lion being 'the mark of the Devil.'
While it is claimed that there are no written rules, a list of rules of the Taylorites was drawn up by a Mr. Wood, of Melbourne, who was a member of the sect till 1962. 1 have shown these to an ex-member, who states they give an accurate picture of what takes place, and I also had the help of a son of a member who managed to show them to his father, who would not deny them, although he claimed some were intended only in a spiritual sense, whatever that may mean. These forty rules include the well-known one: 'All Persons, believers or otherwise, outside our fellowship to be regarded as unclean and vessels of dishonour. We must not eat with such even if they are our closest relatives,' and go on to say that 'children must not mix or play with other children,' doors to be locked and guards Posted at meetings' and 'coffins to be open at burial services and no relatives to be allowed in the room.' There follow two extraordinary items: 'The emblem [sacrament] to be handed to the sisters first as the assembly is feminine. Brothers need to change from the masculine to the feminine which takes time,' and 'Strong drink is to be regarded as a creature of God and the Saints should freely use it, and any who are not free are prohibitionist and should be dealt with.'
In 1956 there were 495 meeting places in England and Wales, 101 in Scotland, twenty-nine in North- ern Ireland and Eire and ninety-six overseas, mak- ing a total of 721 throughout the world. There Were said to be from 10,000 to 20,000 members, although, judging from my postbag, many must have left the Taylorites since about 1960. For instance, one ex-member says that the rule over which he broke away from the movement was the one: 'Young people breaking bread whose Parents are gone out are not to be subject to their parents; they are to despise them altogether, even hate them. Youths who are not breaking bread to be put out of the house,'
What can be done about such inhuman teach- ings? Some say the more the members are per- secuted the more their feelings of martyrdom will be strengthened. Many have left the movement of recent years and some set up their own meeting places with a more normal form of worship. I have suggested that the Churches them- selves hold an inquiry, although the Exclusive leaders in this country, having nothing to do with the outside authorities, would refuse to attend.
The financial aspects might be examined. The £16,000 which one ex-member claims is collected and sent to the American headquarters every year might be the subject of further inquiry. The meeting houses are claimed as being free from rates as churches, but two Walsall councillors have tried to establish that the meeting houses, being now closed to the public, are no longer public places of worship.
Marriage Guidance Councils can sometimes help, as can the NSPCC. In one case, a grand- father in Portsmouth, whose son had joined the sect, took his grandson away from home after the boy had run away from home seven times, as the only social life of any kind he had was attending the meetings of the Ex- clusives. Even at Christmas the boy was not allowed to have a party or receive Christmas cards or letters, let alone see a newspaper or hear a radio. After a court hearing the boy was placed under the care of the county council.
Naturally, I have asked myself, as a believer in religious freedom, if I am right to intervene and to try to get Mr. James Taylor Jnr., of New York, barred from this country. When a movement, even in the name of religion, brings such great misery to innocent parties, breaks up family life, does great social harm to children, causes mental breakdowns and even drives people to suicide, I believe I am.