Gloriavale leader Howard Temple says much criticism of Christian community valid

8:31 pm on 27 February 2023
Howard Temple.

Gloriavale's Overseeing Shepherd Howard Temple says leaders have made mistakes. Photo: RNZ / Nathan McKinnon

Gloriavale's Overseeing Shepherd has told a court much of the criticism directed at the Christian community is deserved and he is saddened by the harm done during a "dark period" in its history.

In a rare public appearance, Howard Temple admitted leaders had made mistakes and promised to report abuse to police, instead of appealing for repentance and forgiveness.

The 82-year-old has been giving evidence in an Employment Court case brought by six former Gloriavale women who claim they were treated like slaves and are seeking a ruling they were employees, rather than volunteers.

Temple said Gloriavale's leaders always intended to keep members safe and comply with New Zealand law while adhering to their Christian beliefs.

"Much of the criticism and scrutiny we have received in recent times as a community is deserved," he said.

"I and the other leaders are concerned and saddened that members and former members of our community have experienced harm. It is not what we want for our families."

Temple said Gloriavale had apologised for failing to protect victims of labour exploitation and sexual abuse and had made changes to stop members being harmed again.

"The wrong-doing in our community is a dark period in our history," he said.

"I accept that these issues could have and should have been handled differently, handled better. As leaders we made mistakes and were naive in how we dealt with these issues."

Gloriavale's mistakes would not be repeated, Temple said.

"Any form of child abuse or the abuse of anyone is unacceptable. This must and will be dealt with by reporting it to the appropriate authorities - police or Oranga Tamariki - and no stigma or shame should be brought upon the victims or their families," he said.

The women claimed they worked long hours under an all-pervading regime of secular and religious control, doing food preparation, cooking, cleaning and laundry on a gruelling four-day rotation.

Temple told the court the women had confused the concepts of religious submission - distinct from any form of forced servitude - and subjugation.

Purity Valor shows Chief Employment Court Judge Christina Inglis around Gloriavale on 24 February 2023.

Purity Valor shows Employment Court Chief Judge Christina Inglis around Gloriavale on 24 February 2023. Photo: RNZ / Jean Edwards

"Some of the plaintiffs and witnesses are endeavouring to paint me as some sort of unrestricted dictator or tyrant. I am certainly not that, I truly value the input and ideas of others," he said.

"I do not have, nor do I exercise absolute power and control over community members. I have never claimed to have such power and nor do I want such power."

Witnesses have testified about unwanted attention from Temple, but he said he gave girls a hug or put a comforting arm around their shoulders as a fatherly figure.

Temple said he respected their wishes when they complained.

"It was not my intention to cause harm and my intentions were certainly not sexual in nature as is being implied. I never pinched Rosanna Overcomer, or indeed anyone else's bottom," he said.

Gloriavale Shepherd Samuel Valor later questioned Howard Temple about the ramifications of a declaration the six former members were community employees.

"I'm having a bit of a problem solving that, off the top of my head at the present time," Temple said.

"You might have to give me the solution, how all this would work," he continued, before chief judge Christina Inglis interjected, "Or I might give you the solution".

A sign which welcomes people to Gloriavale Christian Community.

A sign which welcomes people to Gloriavale Christian Community. Photo: RNZ / Jean Edwards

Temple said employment relationships could foster inequality and disunity at Gloriavale.

"If it [applied] to these girls working in the kitchen, it would also spread out through the whole community. Everybody then becomes employees, and that's where I can see some real problems. For a start we wouldn't be able to pay everybody a minimum wage," he said.

Temple said Gloriavale could only afford to pay the minimum wage to 60 out of 130 Christian Partners, who work for the community's businesses run by the Christian Church Community Trust.

"There wouldn't be enough money to pay all of these partners the minimum wage. That would leave the rest of them with no income. It would get very complicated," he said.

"If people were to selfishly keep earnings to themselves, we would see that as a breach of what the Bible teaches."

The women's case follows similar legal action by three former Gloriavale men found to have been community employees from the age of just six, doing "strenuous, difficult and sometimes dangerous" work on farms and in factories when they were still legally required to be at school.

Temple said the May 2022 Employment Court ruling was "unexpected".

He will continue giving evidence on Tuesday.