'Church ran my life' says ex-member
Warwick Daily News
June 25, 2008
By TONI SOMES
A WARWICK church has been accused of controlling members to the point where everything from holiday destinations to life partners have to be approved by the organisation's elders.
Theresa Coulton left the Warwick Christian Fellowship in November after three years, during which she said the organisation attempted to control all aspects of her life.
She spoke out this week as part of an ABC Four Corners documentary investigating the Brisbane and Toowoomba Christian Fellowship chapters. The Fellowship was investigated after former members claimed the church was controlling and ex-communicated those querying doctrines and divided families.
Warwick Christian Fellowship elder Andrew Hay yesterday labelled the documentary and its allegations as "disappointing".
Mr Hay, who has been an elder since 1991, was reluctant to comment further saying his church had less than 100 members locally and hardly represented a major Pentecostal body.
Ms Coulton said she joined the church as a city newcomer looking for a supportive, Christian environment.
"At the start they were lovely, welcoming people, who wanted to be involved in my life," she said.
"But the more controlling they became the more I started to feel suffocated."
When she finally decided to leave she was ostracised by members and told "the only path to salvation was through their church".
Another local woman said it took her five years to work up the courage to leave the Fellowship.
The woman said she became involved with the church as a seven year old when her parents swapped their mainstream Presbyterian beliefs for the Christian Fellowship.
It wasn't until she was 29 and tired of the group's controlling tactics, which she claimed oversaw everything from where she went on holidays to whom she dated, that she abandoned the church.
The decision came at a price. Her parents and several siblings were still actively involved and they warned her if she left she would be "condemned to hell".
"I'd given 10 per cent of my gross income to the church, I'd dated the boys they wanted me to, I'd limited my friends to those in my bible study group, I'd almost accepted women were subservient to men," she said. "The Fellowship was all I knew, the elders had always decided for me but eventually I started questioning their right to make decisions about my life."
The Warwick Christian Fellowship was founded in 1990 with 20 members. Today it operates from its Emmaus Court premises, as a combined entity with the Stanthorpe Christian Fellowship.
Both churches come under the banner of the Brisbane Christian Fellowship and the Restoration Fellowship, which has branches across Australia and throughout the world.
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