26 Apr 2024

'The Truth' 2x2 religious sect confirms police investigation

5:35 am on 26 April 2024
Hands folded in prayer over Holy Bible

Allegations of historical sexual abuse in the secretive church begun coming to light in the USA after the death of a leader in 2022. Photo: 123RF

This story discusses details of sexual abuse.

Former members of a secretive sect under investigation by the FBI for historical child sexual abuse warn it is a highly controlling and insular group with many unwritten rules.

The religious group has about 2500 members and 60 ministers in New Zealand, meets in homes and has no official name but is commonly known as Two by Twos or The Truth.

Its spokesperson has confirmed police here are investigating at least one former minister for historical abuse and it is aware of 14 cases of allegations against members.

The sect is not registered as a charity, it has no buildings and members are encouraged to tick 'Christian non-denominational' on the census.

Elliot* recently left the church because of the way historical child abuse allegations were handled.

"In your article was more information than we'd ever been given as a church. I was concerned about the lack of accountability.

"There hasn't been a public spoken apology to the church from the workers, the ministers, to say these things have been handled really incorrectly in the past that has caused harm and we're sorry for the harm it's caused."

Elliot joined as a teenager and said the rules are subtle - you're not saved if you don't attend the sect's meetings in homes and hired halls, marrying an outsider is frowned upon, females have a dress code, TVs are not allowed and using the internet is actively discouraged."

Sarah* grew up in the sect, her parents were born into it too, but she left the church when she moved cities to attend university.

"I always felt very restricted by the very strict rules. There's a phrase they use which is 'be in the world but not of the world' so you're not meant to have school friends. I felt like I was living in these two really different worlds and I couldn't marry them up."

The sect's ministers travel in pairs within an area or region, staying in members' homes.

The church spokeperson Wayne Dean confirmed these ministers were police vetted and trained in keeping children safe, members were encouraged to report any abuse to police and any alleged offender is stood down from attending meetings pending investigation.

Sarah said that is not enough - she said the trust given to these ministers, also called Workers, creates a power imbalance.

"There's a culture of understanding that you don't go to the police to sort out any internal issues. If there had been any problematic behaviour before then the police wouldn't have probably been involved," she said.

"I was left alone with Workers my whole life when they were staying in my house, in their bedrooms. Nothing ever happened to me but I can absolutely see how it can happen. They are the most senior people."

She is concerned the secretive nature of the sect would make reporting any abuse difficult.

"I've seen another resurgence of people leaving, from what I understand promises were made that things were going to change and they haven't seen that come to be," Sarah said.

Another former insider said their family has been in the church for generations, but they left shortly after coming out as gay.

They were in contact with family still in the sect but are ignored by others.

"I feel like I have been shunned in a way. I'd see people I knew from growing up in the religion and they would just ignore me. To them I don't exist any more, these are people that I have known my whole life."

Photo of Peter Lineham sitting at his desk, leaning forward.

Professor Peter Lineham Photo: Massey University

Religious studies expert and Massey University professor emeritus of history Peter Lineham said former insiders he had talked to told him the sect is in crisis.

"What they seem to be implying is that there's been quite a big exodus of members over recent years. I think there's been much more public talk about the risks and dangers of secterian groups and a vulnerability of people within those groups."

The church keeps a low profile and Lineham said its response to RNZ, confirming a police investigation, was a "striking development".

"The 2x2s have kept such a low profile for so many years that in fact most people have never heard of them. With this sudden exposure I think it maybe has created a bit of a crisis."

The abuse scandal overseas

The lid was lifted on the scale of historical child sexual abuse within the sect after the leader of its church in the US state of Oregon, Dean Bruer, died in 2022.

An internal letter by his successor stating that Bruer was a "sexual predator" whose actions included "rape and abuse of underage victims" was leaked on social media, then shared to a website set up for victims of the abuse within the group.

Two women set up a hotline just over a year ago, and the floodgates opened - their February update said more than 1500 victims had come forward from around the world.

The sect, founded in Ireland in 1897, is believed to have 100,000 members worldwide, most in North America.

One of the former insiders RNZ spoke to for this story said they had spent time in South East Asia with their family, as missionaries.

Another said the ministers would travel overseas to attend conventions, and foreign ministers would also travel to New Zealand to speak at the annual gatherings.

The FBI declined to comment on whether it had alerted police in New Zealand to its investigation of the 2x2s sect, launched in February.

Its Omaha Field Office said it was seeking the public's help in identifying victims or individuals with knowledge of abuse and/or criminal behaviour that had occurred within a religious group that traditionally has not had a name.

"The group has often been referred to by others outside of the group as "2x2," "The Way," "The Truth," and "The Church With No Name," among others," the FBI said.

"While it is natural for parents to want to gain a better understanding of the potential exploitation of their child, further questioning of the child may lead to inaccurate statements and increased emotional trauma."

The FBI asked people with information to fill out a short questionnaire.

*Former insiders talked to RNZ about the group's secretive culture on condition of anonymity - these are not their names.

Where to get help:

Sexual Violence

NZ Police

Victim Support 0800 842 846

Rape Crisis 0800 88 33 00

Rape Prevention Education

Empowerment Trust

HELP Call 24/7 (Akld): 09 623 1700, (Wgtn): 04 801 6655 - push 0 at the menu

Safe to talk: a 24/7 confidential helpline for survivors, support people and those with harmful sexual behaviour: 0800 044 334

Male Survivors Aotearoa

Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) 022 344 0496

Family Violence

Women's Refuge: 0800 733 843

It's Not OK 0800 456 450

Shine: 0508 744 633

Victim Support: 0800 842 846

HELP Call 24/7 (Auckland): 09 623 1700, (Wellington): 04 801 6655 - push 0 at the menu

The National Network of Family Violence Services NZ has information on specialist family violence agencies.

Abuse survivors

For male survivors:

Road Forward Trust, Wellington, contact Richard 021 1181043

Better Blokes Auckland, 09 990 2553

The Canterbury Men's Centre, 03 377 6747

The Male Room, Nelson 03 548 0403

Male Survivors, Waikato 07 858 4112

Male Survivors, Otago 0211064598

For female survivors:

Help Wellington, 04 801 6655

Help, Auckland 09 623 1296

For urgent help: Safe To Talk 0800 044 334.

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