Victorian Liberal candidate Renee Heath is a lifelong senior member of an ultra-conservative church that has been secretly directed by its global leader to infiltrate Coalition politics, is opposed to gay, trans and reproductive rights and has left some former members traumatised.
An investigation by The Age, The Sydney Morning Herald and 60 Minutes has unearthed fresh evidence of disturbing conduct within City Builders and closely affiliated churches in Victoria that are part of a global network of Pentecostal churches.
Clare and Patrick McIvor believe the City Builders Church is seeking undue influence over Australian politics. Credit:Wayne Taylor
This includes the alleged use of “deliverance” prayers on parishioners to rid them of their “demonic” gay sexual orientation, as well as a violent exorcism on a 12-year-old boy because he was wearing a T-shirt with a skull on it.
A prominent ex-parishioner has also revealed how he previously sought to wield political influence involving church members after being directed by church leaders to gain a power base in the Nationals as part of a long-term strategy.
Renee Heath preaching at City Builders Church.
City Builders Church and its most senior Australian pastor, Brian Heath (Renee’s father), have denied repeated requests for comment. In a letter sent Friday, lawyers for the church and Heath “categorically denied” support for gay conversion therapy, discrimination against non-heterosexual people or engaging improperly in politics.
“Members of a religious congregation are entitled to exercise their political freedoms by joining political parties,” the letter stated.
Ms Heath, 36, who is all but guaranteed to win an upper house seat for the Liberals in the Victorian parliament at next week’s election, as she was preselected at the top of the party’s ballot in Eastern Victorian Region.
Her candidature has also caused deep concern within the Liberal’s powerful administration committee, with at least half of its 19 members expressing concerns that her political campaign is a product of the decade-long campaign by the ultra-conservative church group to win control of safe seats.
Ms Heath has declined multiple requests to give interviews or answer questions and this week Opposition Leader Matthew Guy revealed he hadn’t asked her about her views on key social issues and whether they still aligned with those of her church.
Her sister and brother-in-law, Clare and Patrick McIvor, have given their first public interviews and have accused her of lacking transparency around her role in the church, which the pair disavowed in 2016.
“I simply cannot believe there is any grain of truth to Renee being anything but an agent for the church,” Clare McIvor said.
Ms Heath’s Liberal Party-endorsed website makes no mention of her church, instead describing how “Renee has grown up volunteering” and is “driven by the Liberal value of providing a hand up, not a handout”.
Patrick and Clare McIvor have dismissed as farcical Ms Heath’s claims that her tilt at politics is not intertwined with the church’s ambitions to shift Victorian politics to the hard right.
“I grew up in this place [City Builders] with Renee and we were alongside each other in all of the training. We were raised to be arrows in Brian Heath’s quiver, armour-bearers for him,” said Patrick.
In a podcast from February last year, the same month gay conversion therapy was outlawed in Victoria, Mr Heath criticised “radical, left-wing, anti-Christ” laws and said: “I could be in jail in a month. That’s the fact. I’m not trying to scare you. I’m trying to just tell you how it is”.
In June last year, Renee Heath attended an online workshop by the church’s global leader, Jonathan David, a Malaysian preacher the City Builders flock call “Papa” who heads the global ISAAC network of ultra-conservative Pentacostal churches that includes City Builders.
David boasts political connections across Pacific Island nations, and has been photographed meeting both Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare and Papua New Guinea Prime Minister James Marape. In 2019, he delivered a sermon at former prime minister Scott Morrison’s Sydney church, where he criticised abortion.
“Many nations are cursed. Why? Because they destroy human life,” David said at the Horizon Church in Sutherland. “Destroy the baby.”
Renee Heath, right, speaking with Jonathan David, left, and Patrick and Clare McIvor’s sister-in-law Heidi McIvor, who became the face of Australia’s anti-same sex marriage campaign, in 2014.
Ms Heath, a chiropractor, first travelled to Malaysia in the early 2000s. In 2005, she joined an International Youth Conference led by David, who preaches that homosexuality and abortion are demonic. She travelled to Malaysia again in 2007 for an ISAAC internship. In May 2019, she attended David’s “global leader summit”.
That same year, David also travelled to Australia and, in a recorded sermon, said “the next three terms of election in this nation are very crucial because it’s going to chart the course for end time”.
David first began charting City Builders’ political course in 2015, when leaked messages obtained by this investigation reveal him directing Patrick McIvor and Brian Heath to implement a long-term political strategy, including to have church members “be the agent of change from within” the Coalition.
“Campaign for the … beauty of wholesome families. God created Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve! … You have time on your side,” David’s detailed political instructions from 2015 states.
Matthew Guy has said he hadn’t asked Heath about her views on key social issuesCredit:Joe Armao
Clare McIvor, 39, said many of Ms Heath’s City Builders preaching sessions have been removed from online, but she has retained a few messages from her estranged sister in 2015. In one, Renee energetically endorses David’s direction to seek “dominion in every domain,” an apparent reference to the desire of some Pentecostal churches to influence politics, education, the media and other spheres of society.
In another message from 2016, Renee said: “Papa spoke a lot about the political domain and how we represent a higher order. Heaven!”
Heath previously released a statement that said: “I am not my father. To suggest that I am is offensive, as it belittles me.”
ISAAC churches follow Apostolic Pentecostalism, where the pastor is believed to have special powers to connect the congregation directly to God through practices such as spirit cleansing, speaking in tongues and laying on of hands. The spiritual expression can be physical, which some ex-members believe can cross a line into abuse.
Uniting Church and theology professor John Flett cautioned against any church practices that risk traumatising vulnerable parishioners or done without accountability. He said churches involved in politics should also embrace transparency.
Flett backed calls from ex-City Builders members for Renee Heath to declare to voters whether she supports the views of her pentecostal church.
Clare and Patrick McIvor are among several ex-church members who have broken their silence to detail traumatic experiences within City Builders and affiliated churches in Gippsland.
They accuse Mr Heath of encouraging their marriage in 2012, despite Patrick being gay. Through lawyers, Brian Heath and City Builders Church strongly deny any role in arranging marriages or promoting gay conversion practices.
Patrick, who became a City Builders devotee when he was 15, has alleged that prior to the marriage, Mr Heath suggested he should look into therapy to fix his “sexual brokenness” and stop associating with “faggots”. He describes the pressure from the church to suppress his sexuality as deeply traumatising.
Patrick, who is now openly gay, says he was also directed by Heath and David in 2015 to increase City Builders’ influence in the Nationals so the Coalition would adopt the church’s conservative views and reject same-sex marriage.
Clare McIvor has revealed that she was deeply traumatised after she was forced to undergo unsolicited counselling by an ISAAC network preacher in suburban Melbourne. When she reported it, she said no action was taken.
Another former church member, James Dalton, claims he was blamed by a church elder for being sexually assaulted and sent through gay conversion therapy, causing post-traumatic stress disorder and other mental health conditions. He went through exorcisms at the church and said members would stand around him in a circle, pray in tongues, cast out demons and pray to God to stop him from going to hell.
Carrie Maya, 34, claims a church elder failed to investigate the actions of a deceased pastor, Michelle Worthy, despite allegations of violence.
Watch more about this story on 60 Minutes at 8.40pm on Sunday.
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