12 Jul 2022

Temporary non-publication order placed on Arise Church review

11:07 am on 12 July 2022

An urgent non-publication order has been placed on the independent review into the culture at Arise Church.

A Sunday service at Arise Church

A Sunday service at Arise Church Photo: Elle Hunt / The Wireless

It was supposed to bring some form of closure to former members of the church, but lawyers are now trying to stop the independent review being made public.

The Employment Relations Authority told RNZ there was a temporary non-publication order over the Pathfinding report about the Arise Church.

"This order will be reviewed later this month. As matters are currently before the authority, no other comment will be made at this time."

Earlier this year, US-based journalist David Farrier broke allegations of severe mistreatment of Arise interns and employees.

It prompted an independent review which was carried out by Pathfinding with 545 people engaging with the process.

Lead pastor John Cameron resigned in the wake of the scandal.

Former members have described their frustration at the situation and are questioning Arise's commitment to change.

"It really shows that why John may have presented as being committed to change but he certainly doesn't want public accountability."

This former member who spent a decade at Arise said: "I think the biggest thing it is saying to them [the victims] is that they don't matter and it is bulls**t."

Becky* said Arise needed to understand that people's pain was more important than their egos.

"People who were brave enough to come forward are now being shut down by some lawyers because John doesn't want his image ruined."

In a statement sent to RNZ the Arise Board said that further delay to the release of the Pathfinding Report had caused frustration.

"There may be a perception that Arise is resistant to publication of the report. Arise confirms that this is not the situation. "

Arise said it still desired to release the report as indicated previously.

'Manipulative and controlling'

RNZ has spoken to a number of former interns who had suffered mistreatment at the hands of Arise Church pastors.

Bullying, overworking volunteers, over involvement in personal lives and isolating members from outside influences were also common practice in the Pentecostal church.

"I became quite isolated and I pretty much lost all my friends that weren't part of Arise because they were a bad influence not being Christian."

Becky, who joined as a 10-year-old, said control was another tactic employed: from being asked to wear make up and certain clothing to meddling in her dating life.

"I found that I was sucked in really, really easily and the longer you stay, the more it becomes manipulative and controlling."

Her time with the church took a toll on her mental health, but support was non-existent, she said.

"There was a lot of negativity around mental health. If you had mental health issues the advice would be 'pray on it or see what the Bible says'. It was basically you must not be Christian enough, or haven't prayed enough if you're still struggling because God heals."

The young woman also said she worked many hours of unpaid labour.

She said she was manipulated into the work by leadership who told her it was all in service of God.

George* said the issue of exploiting interns dated back to the very first one.

"When it was just one person, he brought his family in and had a crisis meeting with the church to say this wasn't promised, you're taking advantage of this impressionable young kid."

'I couldn't remain at the church while being gay'

Former Arise member William* is now a proud gay man, but it took leaving for him to accept his sexuality.

William had extensive exposure to both Wellington and Christchurch Arise campuses.

"I've known that I was gay for a long time and a lot of that was spent repressing that while at church."

He said attending church as a gay man made him feel perpetually dirty, and it took its toll on his mental health.

"There would be a lot of comments like 'that's so gay', or 'stop being such a homo', it was very boys' club."

William eventually came out to his young pastor but was not shown any support and said there were a lot of indirect conversations about conversion therapy.

He said homophobia was rife and eventually became too much and he left after accepting he was the way God made him.

"It just felt like I couldn't remain at the church while being gay, there wasn't really a culture to support that and that informed my decision to leave and go to Australia for 10 years."

A panicked pastor

George believes John is not well-equipped to function outside the church.

"When he's not in control and he doesn't have power, he can't deal with it and I think he's realising that he can't really do anything else."

The board has released a statement describing the delay as "deeply regrettable".

"The board is unable to give a timeframe on the release of the Pathfinding report, and is committed to upholding its privacy obligations and so cannot comment further on the matter for now."

George said the church was showing it did not care about what it put its own people through and the review was a smokescreen in order for Arise to control the narrative.

The review by the independent investigator was due to be released at the end of June.

The Employment Relations Authority has told RNZ a temporary non-publication order will be reviewed later in July.

*Names have been changed to protect identities.

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