A former member of a hard-line Christian sect based in Dapto has spoken out about the church leader’s harmful attitudes towards women.
The woman, who did not wish to be named, said Pastor Kevin Harris ran a ‘’cult’’ where preachings were based on a belief that women must submit to their husbands.
Disturbing details about the Independent Baptist churches – which are not affiliated with mainstream Baptist ministries – and Pastor Harris were revealed on a current affairs program on Sunday.
Channel Nine’s 60 Minutes program interviewed Pastor Harris’ mother Joy, who said she was estranged from her son after she brought rape charges against his father. Pastor Larry Harris is currently serving five years in prison for two counts of rape against his wife.
Since the program aired, Illawarra residents have expressed their concerns about the church on a Dapto community closed Facebook page.
‘’I think people feel threatened having that type of teaching in their neighbourhood, and rightly so,’’ the former member said. ‘’But I also worry about the community’s reaction and its effect on those involved in the church, many of whom are vulnerable – even the pastor is a product of his father.’’
On the program, Pastor Harris said he did not think his father had been justly treated, claiming there had been ‘’disobedience to the Lord on both parts’’.
Pastor Harris would not admit that it was a crime for a husband to force sex on his wife, simply stating ‘’It’s wrong’’. And he denied his church was a cult and he, the cult leader. ‘’We’re simple old-fashioned Bible believing people,’’ he said.
Meantime he told the program that he would deal with serious issues or complaints from members, prior to calling in authorities. ‘’The scripture doesn’t say to ring the police,’’ he said.
That attitude doesn’t surprise the former member, who still lives in the Illawarra.
‘’I attended the church for three years under the influence of my ex-husband,’’ she said. ‘’The pastor told him to stand over me in the bedroom and quote from the Bible that wives must submit to their husbands.
‘’Then, when I told my husband I was going to leave him, he got Pastor Harris to come to my house and hold an intervention to tell me what a bad wife I was.
‘’I honestly believe that someone preaching like him attracts men who are narcissists; who believe in women’s submission.’’
On Tuesday morning the Illawarra Community Baptist Church was empty, though its website promoted a ‘Biblical husbands and fathers’ sermon for that day. The website states that it is an ‘’independent Baptist church, free of any denomination’’.
A sign in the front of the adjoining church residence quoted a verse from the Bible: ‘Husbands love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church’.
Knocks on the door went unanswered, though a curtain was quickly drawn. Meantime Pastor Harris did not return several phone calls from the Mercury.
A quick peek inside the darkened church hall revealed a bookshelf containing such titles as Training your children to turn out right and Why I don’t listen to contemporary Christian music.
This is in line with the former member’s memories of the church’s strict guidelines on clothing, reading material, music and film.
‘’Most types of music except hymns are seen as sinful, as is dancing. You’re not allowed to wear t-shirts with bands or celebrities across them; your children are not allowed to read books like Harry Potter.’’
In 2008 the Mercury interviewed Pastor Harris after the Baptist Union of NSW distanced itself from his church after he was alleged to have made anti-Semitic comments in a meeting with a Jewish official.
In 2010 he gave the Mercury his view on same sex marriage: ‘’The Bible teaches that physical intimacy is reserved exclusively between a husband and wife for their mutual pleasure. Anything else God declares to be wrong.’’
Joy and Larry Harris moved to Australia from the US in 1994 as missionaries on behalf of the independent Baptist movement, and later moved from NSW to Queensland.
Another son Jason was a former pastor at the Dapto church, but quit in 2006, and is living in Cairns supporting his mother. He’s set up a website to ‘’warn the Illawarra community about the cult-like leader Kevin Harris’’.