More of a sect than a cult, says theologian
By Andrew Bock
The Children of God sect was similar in many ways to some mainstream and fundamentalist Christian sects in Australia, the Reverend Dr David Millikan told the Children's Court yesterday.
Dr Millikan, an internationally recognised theologian who has studied cults and sects in Australia for 15 years, said the Children of God were a sect and not a cult. Cults, he said, were far more draconian and pernicious.
He said cults could be distinguished from sects by the degree of fear members felt when making judgments in the world or talking to outsiders about the tenets of the group. And cults usually prohibited family involvement.
Dr Millikan said the Children of God made a distinction between those in the group and outsiders, who lived "in the arena of Satan". But this, he said, was a popular belief in mainstream Christianity.
He said other fundamentalist groups such as the Assemblies of God, the Churches of Christ (in Sydney), and the Plymouth Brethren had more controversial attitudes and narrower educational practices than the Children of God. Most religious fundamentalists felt that outsiders did not have much hope of salvation, he said.
Dr Millikan said the Children of God were among many fundamentalist, millennial and isolationist Christian sects in the world, not unlike the Anabaptists of the 16th Century. An important issue in this case was how much people wanted to tolerate bizarre or eccentric religious practices.
"Religion is never at its best when it has a single face before the world," he said.
Dr Millikan said he had questioned the objectivity of a worker with Community Services Victoria who called him about the sect two weeks before CSV raided Victorian homes and took 56 sect children into custody.
He said the woman told him that CSV had the father of the family and was trying to get the children; she said the sect members were liars and had misrepresented their case. Dr Millikan said he was surprised by the call.
The raids, on 15 May, are the subject of another court case. In the case that continues today, police are seeking a protection order to allow them to supervise the children of one family on the ground that they are at risk of significant emotional or psychological harm.
Dr Millikan, who first contacted the Children of God in 1979, said the sect was one of three Christian fundamentalist groups that were inspired by the "Jesus revolution" of the sixties and survived into the seventies.
He said there were aspects of the group in earlier days that were dangerous but these had changed as members of the sect had grown up.