Behind Closed Doors – A startling story of Exclusive Bethren Life by Ngaire Thomas

Published by Random House New Zealand  ISBN 1-86941-730-5

What is the real story behind the Exclusive Bethren Church in New Zealand? This gripping and revealing first hand account tells of one family’s experience in the Exclusive Bethren community in New Zealand. Ngaire Thomas grew up, married, raised her children within the church. In plain, non-judgemental style, Ngaire describes life inside this community, with its strict rules.

Behind Closed Doors tells of the struggles Ngaire and her family went through in order to remain within this close but challenging community. She and her husband Denis, a very devout man, had a strong and committed marriage, raised five children and attempted to live a good life within the church. However, they were eventually excommunicated. Here Ngaire describes the trauma of adjusting to life ‘on the outside’ and its devastating effects on her children at the time.

Having been brought up Open Brethren, I was curious about the break away group that was the Exclusives. Once upon a time, Open and Exclusives were part of what was called the Plymouth Brethren, they shared the same views and philosophies. So what made the Exclusives separate themselves from their Brethren and eventually withdraw from the world?

I liked Ngaire’s down to earth style of writing, and the fact that she is able to give such an unbiased view of the church. There was bitterness and anger, but she also tells you what it was like within the church for those who lived in it. And if you were following the rules and loved God, then you were rewarded. If you were a rebellious person, who bucked the system, you were punished. I think this story is more than just about the Exclusives.

It was also a love story. Ngaire and her husband married after 5 months of knowing each other, at a quiet registry office service. Denis loved her unconditionally, and it wasn’t until later that Ngaire discovered just the extent of his love for her. He was devoted to her and gave up his chance of returning to the church because he loved his wife. That says something for a man who was torn between his family and his church.

I would highly recommend this book to anyone who is curious about life inside the Exclusive Brethren, or anyone interested in learning more about various religions in the world.


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