Exclusive Brethren sect disavows New Zealand political activity

Wellington, New Zealand - The Exclusive Brethren religious sect, which caused a stir when a group of members circulated anonymous pamphlets supporting the conservative opposition National Party in New Zealand's 2005 general election, formally disavowed involvement in politics on Monday.

Tony McCorkell, an Australian businessman said to be the sect's first official spokesman, blamed some 'over-enthusiastic' members for a campaign that failed to bring about the defeat of the coalition government led by the Labour Party.

'The church itself wasn't involved,' he told Radio New Zealand, saying it was 'a very regrettable situation.

'It is very important to understand that there was no church-sponsored, organised involvement in anything political.'

Seven members of the secretive sect called a press conference in September 2005 to admit they had been responsible for producing pamphlets attacking Labour and the Green Party.

Members of the National Party, including then leader Don Brash, were forced to confess that they had met sect members after initially denying any contact with them.

The sect's members do not vote because they say God is the only authority they recognise and they claim to be pacifists who would not join the military forces although they attacked Labour for reducing defence spending.

The Labour Party president Mike Williams and the Greens rejected McCorkell's claims.

Williams said they were not credible because the attack on Labour had coincided with other Brethren intervention in politics around the world, including Australia and Sweden.

But he said he welcomed McCorkell's statement because he interpreted it as direction to Brethren members to stay out of politics.

The Exclusive Brethren claims 7,500 members in New Zealand but only 2,316 nominated it when giving their religious affiliation at the national census last year.