20 October, 2010


Breakout: How I Escaped from the Exclusive Brethren by David Tchappat

The Brethren are a religious group (some say sect, and I am inclined to agree) who have strict rules about their members having contact with the outside world. There is no socialising with what they call worldly people, no radio or television or pre recorded music.  They aren't allowed to eat with worldly people, no sporting activities.Their leader is called the Elect Vessel and makes all decisions regarding what is allowed and what is not. The Elect Vessel has final say on what job you do, who you marry and is also responsible for meting out punishments. It's hard to say exactly what the rules are as the Elect Vessel is able to change them whenever he wants.

Within in the Brethren, if you break the rules, you may find yourself in one of thre positions:

1. shut up - not allowed to attend church or socialise, visited by priests. If a child is shut up, the parents are shut up too to care for them. Any other children will be removed to live with other church members.

2. withdrawn - totally cut off from Brethren. If a child is withdrawn, parents are shut up to care for the child. Other children are removed from the home and cared for by other church members. Adults or children who are able to care for themselves are found alternative accommodation. If a married person is withdrawn their partner will be shut up and any children removed. A withdrawn person is not able to have sexual intercourse or eat with their partner while withdrawn.

3. Excommunicated - removed from the church completely. No longer allowed to attend church, enter Brethren houses, be employed by Brethren members. Basically are seen as having to hope.

David Tchappat grew up in an Exclusive Brethren household. At the age of 19, and having already attempted escape once, he left the Brethren and struck out on his own. He became a police officer (frowned on by the Brethren because it required him to carry a gun), changed career to become a firefighter and appeared on the Australian version of Big Brother. At all stages, David fought guilt and fear over what he had done. Several times he almost returned to the Brethren, believing that he couldn't make it on his own.

I found this book particularly compelling as I went to school and was friends with a girl who belonged to the Plymouth Brethren, a less rigid arm of the church. They weren't allowed to eat with us, have TV's, radios, went to church 7 days a week, but I don't think their punishments were as brutal. At least I hope not. In year 9, K started to go out with a worldly boy. They would come to my house after school, listen to music, watch TV and kiss. (another Brethren no no unless you are married.) Unsurprisingly, K was finally sprung, I was labelled an agent of the devil and her parents cracked down. Having read this book, I hope her punishment was not as severe as someone from the Exclusive Brethren's would have been.

Although I found the book interesting and a fascinating insight into the religion, I did find that David still came across as immature. At the time of writing the book he was in his early 30's. He constantly referred to girls as "hot" or "ugly", talked frequently about "getting on the drink" and often came across as someone trying too hard to use a language he was not use to. I put it down to the fact that up until 19, he was totally shelter. Once he escaped, he went a bit crazy, drank too much, objectified women and really had no one to talk to him about these things. Any attempt to talk to his family resulted in being told that he was unable to cope in the bad, evil world and he better come home toot sweet before he ended up in hell. In short (and lets face it, this post is anything but!) he started his teenage years at 19! No wonder he has some catching up to do!