28 Apr 2022

Arise interns allege bullying, hush money and '20-hour' days

7:32 am on 28 April 2022

Interns who left Arise Church were given settlements, with one allegedly close to six figures, on the condition they did not speak ill of the congregation.

A Sunday service at Arise Church

A Sunday service at Arise Church (file image). Photo: Elle Hunt / The Wireless

More former members have come forward alleging attempts by the Church to keep them quiet with payouts and non disclosure agreements.

Arise Church founder John Cameron has been described as New Zealand's greatest manipulator by one former member who received tens of thousands in a pay out.

"They have done very well to stay out of the media to this point."

He says he is aware of another member who was paid just shy of a six figure settlement.

The member is caught up in legal battles and unable to comment at this time.

Ben worked closely with John, travelling overseas with him and serving as somewhat of a protégé .

He says part of his settlement included a clause to not speak negatively about Arise.

Ben alleges the lead pastors, brothers Brent and John Cameron, were bullies, with their behaviour ranging from juvenile to violent.

This came in the form of farting in their hands and putting it in the faces of interns, 'sack tapping,' and 'charlie horsing', which the church leaders thought was all done in good fun.

"The other side was John completely losing his s***."

Ben claims it did not take much to set John off.

"He had righteous anger, he would be ripping into 15-year-old girls over the wrong lighting and grabbing young men by the collar. They are small, insecure, monsters."

John Cameron. Photo:

The demands on the interns went well beyond the church's walls.

"You were expected to help pastors in their gardens, or move house on your days off."

Ben says many of the interns helped renovate pastors' houses.

During conferences or Sundays, they could be expected to work 20-hour days.

Ben says John's extravagant spending went on high-end clothing and restaurants, electronics and business class flights as well as very expensive gifts for other pastors.

He says he has been encouraging other former members to speak out.

The parent of another intern believes the mental scars Arise left on his child run deep.

Raymond's son Peter is still unable to talk about the damage the church has caused.

Peter was encouraged by Arise leadership, directly led by Brent Cameron, into leaving university with just one year left on his degree, to pursue the internship.

Despite Raymond's protests, Peter was determined to follow the path Cameron had convinced him was his calling.

However, just a few years later Peter was broke, homeless, and physically sick from exhaustion.

"Over two years my son was working 55-60 hours a week and that did not include hours on a Sunday at the church. That 10 hours is additional."

Raymond eventually cut off his financial aid in a desperate attempt to get his son away from Arise and bring him home.

"He was sleeping on a couch, he lost a third of his weight, it was killing me but I had to break him away from this cult. My wife and I were convinced he was going to die if it continued any longer."

Peter raised his health concerns with Arise but Raymond says they were not interested.

"They just wanted more and more and more, it just never stopped and when you asked for support they gave absolutely nothing."

After leaving Arise, Peter was also left completely isolated from his peers.

"You are not allowed to socialise with people that do not go to Arise."

Raymond believes the level of manipulation was incredibly sophisticated.

"When they decide to disown you, you lose all your friends as well."

After becoming an intern, Peter learned the friendships he forged when first joining Arise were manufactured.

Interns would phone him on a Saturday asking if he would be in church.

"That's disgusting, he thought they were his friends, but it was their job to get him there."

Two years on, Peter is slowly recovering but still unable to talk about his experience.

"Even now he does not discuss it, he has put it in a box."

Raymond's family also housed a young Arise member for a significant time after having a mental breakdown.

"We spoke to Arise about getting him some counselling, absolutely no response."

His other son Paul was also convinced to create an automatic payment for Arise while still under 16.

It amounted to his entire weekly allowance.

Raymond was particularly concerned with the tactics used during the expansion offering weekend.

"It is a very slick, clever, marketing strategy. It's like a well-scripted presidential campaign."

Raymond says when he started to ask questions of the leadership, he too was quickly admonished and shunned.

That was until Raymond stopped his regular donations to Arise and a head pastor called to ask why.

"I've never had that in all my Christian life."

In his opinion, Arise have become the false idols they preach against.

Ashleigh was an aspiring young journalist when she first joined Arise.

It appeared her two worlds had come together when she looked to publish her first article.

Instead, she would be ostracised from both.

Arise had fundraised more than $4 million over a weekend for its new Porirua campus.

Spotting a good news story, Ashleigh approached her team leader asking if she could tell it.

She was met with aggressive resistance.

"I was told I would be no longer be welcome at the church, that I was going against God and that I would be shunned."

Ashleigh says she felt emotionally blackmailed by her team leader.

Complaints were made to her journalism tutors and Ashleigh soon left Arise as she no longer felt comfortable.

Arise board chairperson Graeme Kirkwood says two independent reviews are currently underway.

He says due to privacy reasons it was unable to comment on specific allegations or individual employment circumstances.

"The Arise board acknowledges the hurt and the pain that continues to be expressed. We want to strongly encourage anyone who has a complaint or negative experience to engage with the independent reviewer. It is important we hear and understand these stories in order to help bring relief and healing to those who are in pain, and put into place any corrective action that may be needed."

The Arise website 'giving' section says it exists to transform cities with the truth and love of Jesus Christ.

"Your giving empowers our ongoing operations as a church and our work to reach new cities and communities. Thank you for your generosity - together we are making an impact on eternity."

Both John and Brent Cameron did not respond to requests by RNZ for an interview.

*Some names have been changed to protect identities.

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